Refugees and Security

When we present information about refugee resettlement in Tennessee, we get a lot of security questions. We remind people of two things: The vetting process is detailed and thorough; and, the role of our office begins when refugees arrive in Tennessee.

A quick word about point two: We get phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from displaced people or their loved ones asking for help. They all get the same unsatisfying response. We do not get to choose who comes to Tennessee. We always wish we could send help to the voice on the other end of the message, but that is just not how the system works.

So, what about the security vetting of refugees? There are some great resources explaining the security process. Here are some we recommend.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted individuals allowed into the United States. There will always be risk when we allow anyone through our borders for any reason. However, those of us who work daily with and for refugees know that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to welcoming the stranger – those benefits are extended not only to the families who make the US their home, but also to the communities in which they thrive. We ask that you join us by getting to know these newcomers.


Looking Back

We’ve been looking at data and outcomes for the federal fiscal year that just ended (FFY 2016) just ended. So, we wanted see how we’re doing as compared to last year (October 2014- September 2015). We’ll publish our results on FFY 2016, but until then, here are some of the highlights from FFY 2015.

  • 1578 refugees were resettled in Tennessee; 39 percent were children.
  • Refugees from Burma made up the largest group (24.6%), followed by Iraq (20.7%), Somalia (13.4%) and DR Congo (12.9%).
  • Over 70 percent of refugees resettled to Tennessee were resettled in Davidson county, while 12 percent were resettled in Shelby county, 11 percent in Knox, 5 percent in Hamilton, and 6 percent in all other counties combined.
  • 540 refugees received English language training.
  • 263 teachers and school personnel received training on refugee culture and community resources.
  • 1655 individuals received comprehensive health care screenings.
  • The average wage among refugees working full time and receiving cash assistance was $9.38.

We are proud of what our partners across the state were able to accomplish. We are privileged to serve incredibly resilient and hardworking people everyday.

Read the full report here:

How to Get Involved

With so much attention on global migration crises, refugee serving organizations have experienced an uptick in interest from potential volunteers and donors. Since the attacks in Paris we at TOR have heard from people across the state asking how they can help. A few of us who work with and for refugees put this short list of suggestions together:

1) Volunteer

Resettlement and refugee service agencies are always looking for innovative ways to best serve their clients. We all have skills, from graphic design to searching through craigslist, that are invaluable to refugee integration. If you want to see how your skill or passion fits in with an organization, email an agency to see how you can be plugged in. Additionally, dedicated volunteers are always in high demand to teach ESL or befriend a newly arrived family.

2) Support existing programs

Dig through agencies’ websites to find a need that speaks to you. Maybe you’ll choose to donate welcome packages for newly arrived refugee families, or you’ll become a resume tutor and help a highly educated refugee avoid under-employment.

3) Use your voice

Tennessee legislators listen to their constituents; your voice matters. Do two things: follow the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) to stay up to date on proposed legislation and call or email your representatives today!

4) Leverage your networks

Encourage your musician friends to host a fundraising concert, or suggest that your faith group hold a coat drive. Choose to hold your next event at one of the many outstanding New American-owned restaurants in town. Be sure to share facts from reputable sources like the Tennessee Office for Refugees and Migration Policy Institute along the way.

5) Be a Tennessean

We are the volunteer state after all. We pull together in times of crisis and meet each other’s needs.  Nashville has been called the nation’s friendliest city, and we’ve openly welcomed refugees for decades.  Now is the time to uphold these values.


Please visit Meet Our Partners page to connect with a refugee serving agency. This list is not exhaustive. There are many nonprofits that work tirelessly to serve refugees. Get connected with one in your community and see how you can fit in.