Exodus Refugee Immigration
Central Indiana’s Refugee Support Organization
Since 1981, Exodus has helped thousands of refugees and asylees from more than 50 countries establish new lives in Indiana.
In April 1980, Fidel Castro opened the Port of Mariel to reduce tensions in Cuba, giving citizens a chance to escape the country’s political repression and ailing economy. The Mariel Boatlift lasted for a total of six months, and by the end, approximately 125,000 Cuban refugees had reached the United States.
In Indianapolis, volunteers from several churches banded together to help the newcomers start their lives here in America. Their work addressed a critical need for incoming immigrants, so they established Exodus Refugee Immigration to continue supporting refugees from around the world.
Now, Exodus Refugee Immigration offers services to refugees, asylum seekers, human trafficking victims, parolees, and other humanitarian migrants from many countries, cultures, languages, and faiths. These immigrants are people who have left their homes, their families, and their friends to escape persecution and war. Exodus helps them make their home here in Indiana—and in turn, they make Indiana a more diverse and flourishing place.
“Refugees come to the U.S. after literally and figuratively carrying their families across countries and spending a decade or two in refugee camps,” said Cole Varga, CEO of Exodus. “But still, they push on—not just looking for help and a safe place to live, but to be able to work and send money back home, wherever their family is.”
Many arrive with just a single suitcase. They are often battling trauma and untreated medical problems, and some have limited English language skills. But they still must adjust to life in a new country and find ways to become self-sufficient. Exodus helps their clients navigate that adjustment period, as well as the immigration system.
“Immigration is a lot more complex than people think. Truly, you have to be an immigration attorney to figure it out,” said Varga. Exodus offers some assistance with the complex U.S. legal system, but their work goes beyond immigration to include all parts of the resettlement process.
Exodus offers a variety of services to help their clients find housing, pay rent, learn English, obtain medical care, and even secure job opportunities. The organization has steadily grown over the years, serving thousands of incoming refugees and asylum seekers. And in 2016, they settled their largest number of refugees yet—with 947 new arrivals.
Unfortunately, the following years proved much more difficult. Both state and federal administrations curtailed the budget for incoming refugees, and COVID-19 only exacerbated the problem. But in recent years, Exodus was able to rebuild, as the United States reopened and began accepting more refugees.
In fact, Exodus now has its largest staff ever at 70 employees, after hiring enough new employees to meet the growing need. Exodus tripled the number of refugees they served between 2020 and 2021—and doubled it between 2021 and 2022. They even opened a second office in Bloomington, as more and more Hoosiers showed their support with an increase in private donations and volunteer time.
Exodus provides an essential service for incoming Hoosiers, ensuring that Indiana welcomes everyone with the same “Hoosier Hospitality.” As of right now, Exodus reports that the two largest refugee groups in Indiana are from Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thanks to Exodus, these refugees all bring their own unique experiences and culture to Indianapolis. And together, they strengthen the diverse fabric of both our city and our state.