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Refugees in Boston

Last updated: 8/11/17

Refugees in Boston

Refugees from around the world are building new lives in Boston. Learn more about them, how to help, and available services.

Still have questions? Contact:
Immigrant Advancement
1 City Hall Square
Room 806
Boston, MA 02201-2030
United States

Refugee process

Who are refugees?

According to the United Nations, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war, or violence. Refugees are persecuted for their:

  • race
  • religion
  • nationality
  • political opinion, or
  • membership in a particular social group.

In most cases, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. Many refugees are fleeing war or ethnic, tribal, and religious violence.

Resettling refugees in the United States

Most of the world’s refugees return to their community when it is safe to do so. Some countries offer short-term settlements for refugees whose homes remain unstable or dangerous. Resettlement in countries such as the U.S. is the last option. It’s also only available to a fraction of displaced people. Resettlement becomes a priority when a person's legal or physical security is at risk.

All applicants for refugee admission to the U.S. must meet the following criteria:

  • the definition of "refugee," as determined by the federal government
  • determined by the President to be part of a category of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.
  • otherwise admissible under U.S. law, and
  • not “firmly resettled” in another country.
Further criteria and screenings

The State Department decides further application criteria and refugee admission levels. They then present eligible cases to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS interview eligible refugees to see if they qualify.

After refugees complete security and medical screenings, the USCIS officer may approve resettlement. They then arrange travel for the refugees' placement with a US voluntary agency. In Boston, there are three resettlement agencies:

Boston refugee information

Last year, Massachusetts welcomed 2,800 new refugees, with 1,300 settling in the Greater Boston Area.

Where Boston’s refugees come from

In 2016, Boston welcomed refugees from 47 countries. Last year, many refugees came from Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Benefits for refugees receive

Unlike some other immigrants, refugees are often fleeing persecution. This means they cannot bring personal possessions, or prepare for life in a new culture. Local and federal agencies work together to provide help to newly arrived refugees, including:

  • food
  • housing
  • employment
  • medical care, and
  • counselling.
Refugees live and work all over Boston

Many refugees settle in Dorchester and Roxbury. They can work right when they arrive in U.S., and they can work in all industries. Refugees often find jobs through social networks.

Helping refugees

Everyone can help refugees by welcoming them as valuable members of Boston’s community. You can help by volunteering, tutoring, donating, educating, and employing refugees. Find more detailed ways to get involved in our “Donate” (link) and “Volunteer” (link) sections.

Please keep in mind

The Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) is the central coordinating body for the state’s refugees. They work with the federal government to distribute funding.

Nonprofits working with refugees in Mass.

Services for Refugees

Services

Everyone should have access to a home, regardless of their income or background.

We created a guide to help you find more information on affordable rentals and homes in the City.

Affordable housing in Boston

We have information on English classes for speakers of other languages in Boston by neighborhood. You'll sometimes see these referred to as ESOL classes.

Classes by neighborhood

Boston strives to have a robust, resilient food system. We want to make sure all Bostonians have adequate access to fresh, healthy food. You can find more information on our Food Access page.

Food Access programs

The Greater Boston Food Bank partners with 530 hunger-relief agencies. This includes food pantries, community meal programs, and supplemental grocery schemes. The food bank created a tool to help you find an agency near you.

There are many services and laws to make healthcare affordable, available, and understandable to refugees. You can find different ways to get insurance, pay for healthcare, and find interpreters.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement has more detailed information. In Boston, you may visit any doctor or hospital. In the City, you can also get help from:

Department of Public Health - Refugee and Immigrant Health
305 South Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
617-983-6596
Languages Spoken:
  • Arabic
  • English
  • Spanish, and
  • Vietnamese.
Services include:
  • helping you with an initial health assessment, and
  • linking you with a primary provider.
Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights at Boston Medical Center
771 Albany Street Boston, MA 02118
617-414-4794
Services include:
  • providing holistic health care for survivors of torture and refugee communities.
East Boston Ecumencial Community Council
50 Meridian St, Ste. B-1 E Boston, MA 02128
617-567-2750

Languages spoken: English and Spanish

Services include:
  • immigration help
  • adult education and English classes, and
  • help with voting.

Eritrean Community Center
50 Shawmut Ave, Roxbury, MA 02118
617-427-1210

Languages Spoken: Amharic, English, and Tigrinya.

Services include:
  • women’s empowerment classes and cultural events.

Haitian American Public Health Initiatives
1601 Blue Hill Ave, Mattapan, MA 02126
617-298-8076

Languages spoken: Haitian Creole, English, and French.

Services include:
  • English classes
  • health education
  • family
  • a food pantry
  • skills training for youths, and
  • summer youth programs.

Irish International Immigrant Center
100 Franklin St. LL-1, Boston, MA 02110
617-542-7654

Languages spoken: Albanian, Haitian Creole, English, French, and Spanish.

Services include:
  • educational programs
  • immigration services
  • exchange programs, and
  • wellness services.
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
105 Chauncy St, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02111
617-350-5480

Languages spoken: English and Spanish

Services:

They place AmeriCorps members at refugee-service organizations. These members:

  • provide legal representation, and
  • help with English classes and citizenship.

Somali Development Center
205 Green St, Boston, MA 02130
617-522-0700

Languages spoken: Amharic, Arabic, Haitian Creole, English, Somali, and Tigrinya.

Services include:
  • teaching about self-sufficiency
  • women’s empowerment, and
  • English programs.

JVS Boston
75 Federal St, 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02110
617-399-3300

Languages spoken: Amharic, Bosnian, Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole, Croatian, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Services include:
  • free and low-cost workshops
  • career training
  • college preparation, and
  • English classes.
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston
275 West Broadway, South Boston, MA 02127
617-464-8100
Languages spoken:
  • Arabic
  • Burmese
  • English
  • Haitian Creole
  • Spanish, and
  • Vietnamese.
International Institute of New England
1 Milk St., Boston, MA 02109
617-695-9990
Languages spoken:
  • English
  • French
  • Nepali
  • Romanian
  • Spanish, and
  • Turkish.
Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center
31 Heath St, 3rd Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
617-522-8500
Languages spoken:
  • Arabic
  • English
  • Farsi
  • Krio, and
  • Somali.

Many schools, community colleges, and training centers offer a variety of vocational classes. But, JVS Boston and the International Institute provide orientations, trainings, and classes for refugees. They’ll help you build skills to start a successful life in Boston and America.

JVS Boston’s Refugee Employment Services provides direct employment services to local refugee populations.

The International Institute of Boston offers:

  • industry skills training in hotel management, healthcare, and banking
  • job placement, and
  • retention services.

Whether you’re walking, taking the T, riding a bike, or car sharing, there are many ways to get around Boston.

We created a page that helps you better understand your options.

Getting around Boston

Donating

Local, national, and international nonprofits provide for refugees' day-to-day and long-term needs. Donating money to a reputable nonprofit is often the best way to help refugees.

If you'd like to donate in-kind, people often need:

  • food
  • jackets and clothing
  • certain types of furniture
  • toiletries
  • cleaning supplies
  • school and business supplies, and
  • Charlie Cards with $10 or $20 on them can take a refugee a long way.

Different groups accept different donations, so make sure to check first! You can arrange a donations drive for some of the most-needed items, such as winter coats and blankets.

Local groups helping refugees in Boston include:
Some of the most reputable international organizations include:

Volunteer

You can help refugees get used to their new lives in Boston by volunteering. There are many volunteer opportunities to match your interests and availability.

You can volunteer your time, either intensively or weekly at:
  • Boston’s resettlement agencies
  • local nonprofits
  • your closest community center
  • ESOL classes, and
  • your nearest food bank.
Volunteer opportunities include:
  • becoming an English tutor or teaching English classes
  • mentoring a family
  • doing much-needed administrative work in an office, and
  • helping at a food pantry.
Spread the word

It’s crucial to educate yourself and others. Misconceptions about refugees and other migrants can create toxic workplaces and neighborhoods. A little kindness and compassion goes a long way to make newcomers feel welcome.

To get started, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a collection of refugee stories. The Boston Public Library also has thousands of resources by and about refugees for children, teenagers, and adults.