Refugees in Tucson: Overcoming the Language Barrier

Though many Tucsonans aren’t aware, Tucson has one of the largest populations of resettled refugees in the United States. Nearly 62,000 refugees have relocated to Tucson in the last 10 years.

This map shows the the 8 countries where most of Arizona’s refugees are from.


Click here to take a closer look at the map.

Though they face many obstacles when adjusting to life in a new country, many refugees have said that one of the hardest things to deal with in their move was the language barrier. The issue, however, is more complex than simply not being able to speak English.

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Abdullahi Omar is a refugee from Somali. Though he knew English when his family moved to the United States, he still says there were colloquialisms and other aspects of the language that he didn’t understand.



Bushra is a refugee from Iraq. Though she did live in other countries such as Jordan before moving to the United States, the resettling was still a challenge. She said its important for refugees to go out into the community to learn the language. One of the reasons she thinks its easier for young people to learn English is because they have to go to school, they have to spend time immersed in the language. However, that doesn’t come without it’s problems. Here she talks about her son’s struggles in a school that didn’t offer ESL classes.


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Sareos Gedi is a refugee from Somalia. She came to the United States with her husband and two children, leaving behind three children and her mother in Africa. She came to the states with no knowledge of English. After just a few weeks, she had to go to the hospital and deal with medical problems, all while not being sure what was going on because of her limited English. But through hard work and dedication she learned the language and is now a US citizen.


However, there are many organizations willing to help refugees. Ishkashitaa Refugee Network and the Arizona Language and Transportation Services are two organization that ESL teacher Grace Green works with. These organizations not only offer ESL classes and translator services, but Ishkashitaa helps provide refugees with jobs through their fruit gleaning program and ALTS transports refugees to important appointments.

At the University of Arizona, Professor Cindi Gilliland created the Arizona Resource Connection. This club gives students the opportunity to put their business skills to use while helping refugees find jobs and raising money to fund projects both in Tucson and outside the country.