Why do we keep reading stories about volags not doing their jobs?

 Update 2/17/08:  See my post that follows up on this one here.

 Update 2/20/08:  New information on this story here.

Just this morning I posted on a ho-hum article about Burmese refugees arriving in Connecticut and now, thanks to a reader, I’m posting on another article from the same paper about a volag not taking care of refugees.

This happened in Hagerstown, MD near where we live and it’s what Chris Coen of Friends of Refugees described to us too—non-profit groups funded by the federal government leaving refugees in a lurch.  Luckily in Waterbury, CT the refugees have some church people looking out for them.   This time the culprit appears to be the International Institute of CT which must be a subcontractor of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigration.

Confusion about late fees for missed rent payments, missed doctor’s appointments and letters from the Department of Social Services have left many refugees frustrated and angry. Some no longer trust the institute to handle their concerns, said Diana Monti of the Living Faith Christian Church. But Oliver denies that. “That’s not what we’re hearing from them,” she said. “They’re going to have to have confidence in us. They’re going to have to trust us and we are going to respond to their concerns.”


Additionally, a nurse at a local middle school says she has called the institute four to six times over the last two months to facilitate immunization requests for six refugee students. Brenda Gugliotti, of West Side Middle School, says the institute has not returned her phone calls and if the students do not receive immunizations by mid-March, they will be excluded from school. “I try to be fair,” said Gugliotti. “But this is my last warning… It’s very frustrating and it’s very, very time consuming… I have a few children in the building who are medically fragile. It’s not fair. The International Institute does not answer. These are not the only six children in the building.”

This article raises a couple of issues.   I really don’t get it, why aren’t these NGO’s who are contracted to take care of the refugees taking care of them?  Read the whole article and you’ll see that the volag people are throwing blame to the refugees.   Can you imagine being in a very foreign country and within a few months being expected to fend for yourself with government bureaucracy?  

And, then the second issue it raises is the one about health.  Ft. Wayne, IN has had a very challenging time dealing with health issues with its Burmese population and Waterbury, CT really must get on top of any problems right away.   In Ft. Wayne the big concern has been the cost of immunization and the high number of refugees with TB.  For readers interested in health issues see our whole category on the subject here.

ORR/IRC: Conference for Ethnic Community Based Organizations

We have told you on many occasions about the Volags (Voluntary Agencies) that run the Refugee Resettlement program with federal grants and contracts from the Office of Refugee Resettlement(ORR) in the US Department of Health and Human Services (among other agencies).   The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one such volag.  I wrote about them beating the drum to bring more Iraqis to the US here.

Next week ORR and the IRC ‘s Project SOAR (Strengthening Organizations Assisting Refugees) will hold a joint conference funded by you to train the growing number of refugees who are starting their own Ethnic Community Based Organizations (ECBO).   Sessions will focus on how to get government grants, build a board of directors, work with community leaders, etc.    My personal favorite is one on how to get favorable media for your group and refugees in general.

The Importance of Media for Successful Refugee Integration– Robert McMahon (Council of Foreign Relations), Joshua Yager (CBS News), Theresa Vargas (Washington Post)


A panel of print, web, and television reporters will discuss how to educate reporters about refugee issues, identify and “pitch” the most appropriate media representatives, and ensure coverage for their events, clients, and programs. Through two case studies, participants will develop step-by-step processes for ensuring coverage for programs and clients. Panelists will also address how to prepare refugees for media interactions, and how to address clients’ concerns related to anonymity and confidentiality.

Alfonso Aquilar, US Citizenship Office head in the Dept. of Homeland Security, is also scheduled to speak

You are funding Project SOAR at the International Rescue Committee.   So, you are actually funding this entire conference.

The IRC’s Project for Strengthening Organizations Assisting Refugees (Project SOAR) is a unit within the IRC’s Resettlement Department that assists these new organizations, founded by and for refugees. Funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the unit provides technical assistance in the area of organizational capacity building to ensure that the groups we assist accomplish their missions, serve their beneficiaries effectively and engage in long-term strategic planning.

Now, here is what I wonder.  Why do we need all these ECBO’s?   Doesn’t the establishment of groups called Montagnard Human Rights Organization,  Bosnian American Association of New York City,  and the Boat People SOS simply continue to separate us in America, to  continue to accentuate our differences?  Shouldn’t we have workshops and conferences on how refugees should assimilate into America?  

I envision sessions called perhaps “American Holiday traditions”,  “Important people in American history”, “Following the laws, big and small in America”, “What’s acceptible public behavior in America (how to be polite in the supermarket, rules of the road)”,  and so on.

Examples of ECBO’s at work with your money 

We have written about a couple of Ethnic Community Based Organizations whose directors have personally enjoyed your money.  One was Nikki Tesfai of the African Community Resource Center  in Los Angeles arrested for allegedly enjoying the high life on federal grants.   The other was the director of the Somali Center in Nashville and his Imam (now of Kenya) who received money from ORR while out on bond on charges he misused the first grant money. See that shocking story here.

P.S.  I was going to write more about the IRC and its tax returns here, but it’s way too much, so come back later for a continuation of this story.

Refugees in Connecticut

Nothing much new here but we don’t often see information about refugees going to Connecticut, so if you live in CT then check out this article from the Republican-American about Burmese refugees to your state.  Burma is much in the news because the leader of the Karen was assasinated this past week.  

We mostly resettle the Burmese Christian Karen refugees from camps in Thailand, but there are rumblings that the Muslim Rohingya from Burma (now in Bangladesh) are being considered for resettlement in the US. 

More on Burmese refugees here from Reuters today.

Connecticut received over 20,000 refugees between 1983 and 2005.  The largest numbers are from the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.