Las Vegas agencies help refugees transition to American life

Las Vegas is a city made up by many faces from many places, and among them are those of refugees who resettled in the valley to start a new life.

On average, Las Vegas welcomes 2,200 refugees per year, according to Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, the organization responsible for overseeing refugee resettlement in Nevada. After overcoming the initial task of fleeing their country, the refugees encounter other challenges as soon as they set foot in their new home.

“When one comes to the U.S. from Cuba, you think that everything is the color of roses, but it’s not,” said Juan Carlos Carrera Peña, a Cuban refugee who resettled in the U.S. in 2010. “You learn that you have to work hard, make sacrifices and learn about the culture and language. Many of us came here with very little, but we gained a lot by coming here. We have freedom here.”

To help ease the burden of resettlement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the help of Catholic Charities, is set to host a refugee drive from 9 to 11 a.m. May 21 at the church’s parking lot, 10070 Azure Drive.

The public is invited to help refugees by donating gently used household and kitchen items, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, school supplies, toys and clothing. Volunteers also are needed to help assemble 400 hygiene kits and make blankets.

“Everything will go to support local refugees,” said Charlie Melvin, Skye Canyon Stake public affairs director of the church. “The church is always trying to partner with other churches and organizations to do different community projects. Right now, this is what we see a need for. There are so many refugees who need help here.”

A blood drive is also planned by United Blood Services.

Information booths will be available to provide ways to help local refugees, such as teaching English.

“English paves the path to work and to make money for a better future,” Carrera Peña said.

Las Vegas has become an ideal place to resettle due to its plethora of jobs in the city’s hospitality industry, according to Catholic Charities.

In December 2010, Carrera Peña, 34, left Cuba, where he worked as an engineer for $20 to $30 a month. While he claims the education is good in Cuba, he said the economy is not.

“I bought my first computer here, my first car and my first house,” said Carrera Peña, who now works as a dual rate supervisor at The Cromwell. “I could never do that in Cuba.”

From October 2015 to April 28, Catholic Charities has helped 1,579 refugees resettle in Las Vegas. Overall, roughly 70 percent of refugees come from Cuba. Other top nationalities that are welcomed include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Eritrea and Iraq.

While the government provides a one-time refugee assistance of $1,000 on top of $335 for the first eight months, the individuals must learn English, find work and provide for their family.

“Many refugees that come here have already been in a refugee camp, and the average stay at those camps is five to 15 years,” said Leslie Carmine, director of media and community relations at Catholic Charities. “It can take refugees several years before receiving refugee status to the United States due to several background checks. They’ve endured a lot of hardships and have escaped life-threatening situations.”

Worldwide, there were 19.5 million refugees at the end of 2014, 14.4 million under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That was around 2.9 million more than in 2013, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

With the help of agencies with local chapters, such as Catholic Charities and the African Community Center, refugees are assisted with services such as food, shelter, clothing, cultural orientation and education.

“They often come with only the clothes on their back and maybe a backpack,” Carmine said. “We can use things like bedding and salt and pepper shakers. These are basic necessities that can help them become self-sufficient.”

For more information about the drive, email Melvin at

To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy


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