Bosnian Refugees Call Vermont Home

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Megan O’Keefe

Adnan Duracak, 20, fled Bosnia in 1990 with his parents and older brother as violence and war escalated in the region.
Employed by Middlebury Dining Services in the kitchen at Freeman International Center, Duracak is a part of what Matthew Biette, associate director of Dining Services, called “a strong Bosnian connection” at Middlebury College. Duracak is also one of 1,412 Bosnians living in Vermont, according to the 2000 Census. People fleeing war-ravaged Bosnia now make up the majority of refugees arriving in Vermont. Bosnian immigrants account for approximately 0.2 percent of Vermont’s population of about 608,000 residents — the highest percentage of Bosnian immigrants of any state.
While 98,766 Bosnians now live in the United States, refugee organizations did not expect to see the establishment of a large Bosnian refugee community within Vermont. Once the ethnic group developed a foothold in this area, however, relatives from Bosnia followed, and a burgeoning community developed.
After leaving Bosnia, the Duracak family lived in Munich, Germany, for nine years. Three years ago, when strict immigration and citizenship laws no longer made living in Germany possible, they applied for entrance to the United States.
Each year the United States accepts 67,000 of the 14.3 million people worldwide who are declared refugees. According to Lavinia Limon, the head of Immigration and Refugee Services of America, “You don’t get to be one of the 67,000 without paying attention. You have to be lucky. You get interviewed three times. The process is not simple.”
When the United States accepted the Duracak family’s immigration application, they moved to Detroit, where they struggled to live in a bad neighborhood. The Duracaks moved to Middlebury two years ago at the urging of a relative who had already settled in the area as a refugee.
Like other Bosnian refugees living in Vermont, the Duracak family faces a number of special challenges. Foremost among these are language barriers at work and in school, which present obstacles to integration. In Montpelier, 26 of the city’s 1,135 primary and secondary school students are Bosnian.
Montpelier Superintendent of Schools Chaunce Benedict reacted to the flow of refugees by increasing the number of teachers certified in teaching English as a second language. “We and schools everywhere have had a lot of ‘getting up to speed’ to do to meet their needs,” he said.
Duracak understands the challenge of integrating into an American high school. His greatest challenge was the language barrier. “I didn’t know any English when I came to the United States,” he explained. Duracak, who is “not a shy person,” adapted remarkably well, however, to life at Middlebury Union High School.
Duracak made both American and Bosnian friends at school and in his neighborhood, where there is a large population of Bosnian refugees. He learned English quickly through immersion and by enrolling in English as a second language classes at Middlebury College and other schools. Duracak graduated from Middlebury Union High School in 2001 and attended Fisher College in Boston for a year. While he is now taking a semester off, he plans to return to Fisher this spring. Duracak’s 23-year-old brother attends Linden State College in New Jersey.
Duracak’s parents, like many other middle-aged refugees, have faced numerous difficulties in their transition to life in the United States. Both are college graduates, but their diplomas are not accepted in the United States and many jobs expect an English language proficiency that Duracak’s parents have not yet attained.
In Bosnia, Duracak’s mother, Sunita, was an accountant. She is now employed by Middlebury Dining Services in Proctor as a servery worker. Duracak’s father, Adem, works in a factory for Special Filaments Inc., but was a chemist in Bosnia.
Despite such frustrations, Duracak is positive about his experience in the United States. He accepted that there are some things that cannot be changed and only lamented that most Americans are not aware of how educated many Bosnian refugees are.

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