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Durham health department helping refugees make transition to US

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The Durham Public Health Department gets refugees set up with lab work, immunizations and referrals to dentists and doctors. The Durham Public Health Department gets refugees set up with lab work, immunizations and referrals to dentists and doctors.
DURHAM, N.C. -

 The Triangle has become home to the largest number of refugees in the state. A handful of health departments in North Carolina are primarily responsible for preventing the spread of diseases from overseas.

The Durham County Public Health Department helps vaccinate refugees.

Tun Za Thang grew up in Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, but moved to Durham with “World Relief” in December 2013.

"As a refugee, we always dream, we always wish to come to the United States," Thang said.

He has settled with a job buying and selling baseball cards.

The Durham Public Health Department helps make sure Thang has all his vaccines. The department gets refugees set up with lab work, immunizations and referrals to dentists and doctors.

Thang said he has gone to the department three or four times for vaccinations already.

Around 300 refugees and their families arrived in Durham during the 2013 fiscal year.

The public health department said it has vaccinated 80 percent of those. That number is up 64 percent from 2011.

Refugee Health Coordinator Shirley Stock said it is the job of Americans to help those in need.

"Some of these people have come over here. They've been tortured, they've been, lots of different things going on,” Stock said. “I think this is a very organized plan to try to do that."

She said she sees about 25 new refugees a month and they are very kind and welcoming.

"They speak languages really I've never heard of. Tigrinya, Kinyarwanda, Eritrea," she said.

A phone call to a translation service costs $2 per minute. The health department said more funding is always needed as the number of refugees grows.

Medicaid covers some costs for the refugees while the health department finds ways to cover other expenses.

"When we fill out the application for the greencard, it's a happy, happy day,” Stock said. “Even if the kids don't have to come, they bring them. We hug and we kiss. They are just very, very grateful for the help that they've gotten. It's very rewarding."

Thang said a greencard would be his ticket to visit places around the world.

A celebration of World Refugee Day is planned for June 28 in Durham. The celebration will include soccer, basketball and a picnic at Duke.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.


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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.