This is an update on the series of articles we reported on earlier in the year from Waterbury, CT. Yesterday’s article in the Republican American shows how refugee resettlement could work and should work—communities and individual churches working closely with immigrants such as these Burmese Karen (Christians). The present refugee resettlement system is run almost exclusively by government contracted volags (supposedly voluntary groups) who, like the International Institute of CT, frequently drop the ball and don’t care for the refugees. At least in the case of Waterbury, the US State Department took action and suspended the Institute.
This article tells how private citizens have stepped in and this particular group of refugees is on the way to becoming American—-with summer camp for the kids (arranged by volunteers).
Ideally, this is the way the U.S. State Department would like refugee resettlement to work — the community and non-profits helping refugees assimilate. In Waterbury, however, friction developed early between volunteers and the International Institute, the non-profit agency that brought the refugees to Waterbury last fall, and volunteers responded by doing more. The Institute has subsequently been reprimanded by the U.S. State Department and has been forbidden from processing more refugees, but a degree of frustration — and anger — remains.
“If these people didn’t have us, where would they go?” said Caren Smith, the Living Faith volunteer who has spearheaded physical and dental appointments, meaning she is in these clinics up to four times a week. “These kids were running around with six to eight teeth rotting in their mouth. I mean rotting.” Smith has been helping Karen refugees since November and estimates she, or a member of her family, is in the refugees’ homes three to four times a week. She says during all that time she has not seen an institute staff member.
“[Jo Ann’s] fear is that if she and the other volunteers don’t do something, there’s no other safety net available,” said James Robertson, a Waterbury lawyer. “Who will help these people if not them? If there were a superstructure, a well-developed network that took care of them, maybe these volunteers would not be as energized.”
“The International Institute has really been a disappointment,” concedes Mike Monti, assistant pastor at Living Faith. “Fortunately, there’s a group of folks trying to help these people in spite of the lack [of attention] on the International side….[The refugees]just left to the mercy of someone who would knock on their door and say, ‘Can I help you?'”
Be sure to read what Lavinia Limon (head of USCRI, the mothership of the International Institute) had to say about Waterbury here.
Reform needed: We must go back to the old system of resettling refugees one family at a time with the help of private groups and churches. Presently we are paying multi-million dollar non-profit groups to do this work and they are failing on many levels—refugees are not being assimilated (Somalis!), refugees are left in the lurch, and the tax payer is footing the bill (including for salaries topping $100,000 for these groups’ staffers). Cut out the middlemen!