ST. CLOUD -- A woman who has dedicated her time to understanding and helping refugees spoke at St. Cloud State University Tuesday afternoon.

Emily Hipps is the development and communications coordinator for the International Institute of Minnesota. The non-profit organization is a refugee-resettlement agency based in St. Paul.

Hipps was invited as a guest speaker to St. Cloud State to talk with students about the challenges refugees face, the process refugees go through to come to the United States and the resources the organization provides to refugees.

Knowing the definition of a refugee Hipps says is key to understanding every unique situation.

The organization's definition is: A person who has fled his or her home nation, and who cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. 

Hipps says there's a lot of misinformation surrounding us about refugees and her main goal during every presentation she gives is to talk about the facts.

"I think the most important thing I wanted to emphasize was the extensive nature of the background checks that refugees undergo before coming to the United States."

Refugees have to go through multiple health screenings and background checks in order to get into the country. To give the audience a real life feel for what a refugee might experience going through the screening process, Hipps asked the audience to fill out a basic form that any refugee would need to complete.

"I use this form because it has very basic questions like what is your name, what is your cell phone number and what is your address, anyone who sees this form in English can fill it out."

The catch was the form was not in English but was in Turkish.

"When you receive instructions in Turkish and the form in Turkish it suddenly becomes a lot harder and it shows kind of what refugees go through every day."

Hipps says the frustration of not knowing English can often motivate a refugee to learn the language faster.

"What motivates them to learn English and get jobs is that no one likes to be dependent, they want to be independent and they want to take care of themselves."

Chrissy Gaetke, WJON


With many differing political opinions on immigration, the audience asked how to handle a negative situation involving a refugee.

"The best thing to do is to not engage with the person who is angry because they are emotional, upset and not being their best self. So what you can do is offer comfort to the person who is being attacked by engaging them in basic conversation to separate them from the negative statements that are being made."

The institute has a number of programs that help refugees settle in the U.S. including English learning programs and job training programs.

"Two of our job training programs are industry specific career pathways. So what we do is we have specific training for new Americans to get them into an entry-level job in either the hospitality or medical career fields."

Hipps says this often includes hotel housekeeping and nursing assistant training.

Hipps has previously worked as a Fulbright Fellow in Turkey and has a bachelor's degree in English from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.