Jacksonville, FL refugee: why are we here?

The Burmese refugee quoted in the Florida Times-Union today asked the 64 thousand dollar question:  Why Jacksonsville?  Indeed, why Utica, NY, or Manchester, NH, or Erie, PA, or Emporia, KS?  

But what Thaw Ray, 34, doesn’t know is why, of all the cities where the federal government’s refugee resettlement program could have sent him, he ended up in Jacksonville.


It’s a question that thousands of refugees from Afghanistan to Zaire could be asking themselves, local and national refugee experts said.


The answer is partly speculation and partly a complex calculus of politics involving the United Nations, about 20 other host nations, the U.S. State Department and a group of 10 nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies. Employment, housing and climate factor in, as does a diversity that helps make the First Coast one of the most welcoming places for refugees from around the world.


“It’s … a hit-and-miss kind of thing,” said Patricia Madrid, director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities in Jacksonville.

It’s hit or miss alright, or that’s how it appears to those of us asking that question.   There appears to be absolutely no rhyme or reason for the resettlement of refugees in this city or that, because there is apparently a total lack of leadership from the Federal government on this critical community-changing program. 

 In my opinion the program is simply run on the ‘Squack factor’—the what?  You know, the city that is silent is “welcoming” and the city that squacks is “unwelcoming”.    That is how the decision is made, or so it appears, because we have no other evidence that there is any advance planning and analysis.

Having exhausted the original gateway cities, the volags (voluntary agencies) are scurrying around the country bringing refugees here and there, hoping to “hit” on a “welcoming” place.   I’ll reiterate my recommended reform:  We need an ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT prepared in advance of refugees being resettled in any community.   The way it is now, it appears that the Volags are running this show to the detriment of  both community harmony and the well-being of refugees.