Johns Hopkins forum sought to explain refugee resettlement program

This is old news, it happened in November, but as I said before I have piles of backed-up refugee stories to mention.

A forum and panel discussion was held at Johns Hopkins Univ. to explain the refugee program and how it’s going in Baltimore, MD.   There is lots of information about the history of refugees arriving in Baltimore, and there is the usual whinefest about not enough money to run the program properly.

The IRC (International Rescue Committee) has been resettling refugees in Baltimore since 1999. In fiscal year 2008 they resettled 480 refugees and 140 asylees, with the majority coming from Nepal, Myanmar and Iraq and various African nations.

The IRC sees Baltimore as a good city to resettle refugees to because the costs of living are lower than many other eastern cities. It is also fitted with accessible public transportation. Refugees also serve to further culturally enrich an already diverse city.

Martin Ford of the Maryland Office for New Americans said that resettlement agencies are under a great deal of pressure to provide comprehensive resettlement services with limited resources.

Limited resources!   Readers should know that the International Rescue Committee is an approximately $200 million a year operation.  In 2005 (No more recent financial documents would open) the organization received $88 million in taxpayer funding.  So when they say that they put up thousands for each refugee family, know that a large portion of that comes from you!

This (IRC responsibility)  includes paying for rent and utilities during their fist months here, as well as helping them secure employment. However, these grants total only $850 per refugee. Fikremariam (Worku Fikremariam, resettlement program manager for the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore) estimated that his agency spends $3,000 to $4,000 per refugee family in the first few months they are in the country.

Half of the $850 stays with the volag (IRC here) in addition to many other grants the IRC receives from various federal and state agencies.   Again, the $3000 to $4000 is not all THEIR money, but largely your money.

Iraqi refugees are not happy campers!

A substantial portion of this article was taken up with a discussion of the unhappy and often unemployed Iraqi refugees who have been coming to the US at an increased rate in recent months.  See our Iraqi refugee category for an abundance of unhappy Iraqi stories.

One Iraqi asylee*, who asked to remain anonymous because he has many relatives still living in Iraq, estimated that he had already spent one year and several thousand dollars studying for recertification as a physician here. He held a high position in the government after the American invasion and supervised 10 Ph.D. candidates in their dissertation research. He estimated that he would not be properly certified to find a job in his field here until 2010. Until then he has found a part-time job as a translator.

Many recently arrived Iraqis have not been so lucky. This asylee recounted that prior to leaving Iraq many refugees did not realize that they would not be able to apply the same skills and knowledge in their new location. He said that a resettlement agency tried to place another refugee who had been a doctor in Iraq in a low skill job.

“They asked him if he wanted to have a job like wiping the floor or washing dishes. This is impossible for our people, a lot of them prefer to go back home and be killed there than do those jobs here; it is like a stigma,” he said.

Where is the unrealisitic expectation coming from?   We have heard on several previous occasions that the agency processing refugees overseas has not been doing a good job of sitting prospective refugees down and explaining the cold hard facts about our economic situation.

The Iraqi asylee said that many recently arrived Iraqis feel frustrated by their lack of success in securing suitable jobs. He contended that this is a result of the pre-departure orientation, which is received by Iraqis coming to the U.S. under the special immigrant visa created by Congress this year.

The rosy picture of America needs to go away, says IRC spokesman.

Sometimes they have to go through that for reality to hit and the rosy picture of America to go away,” Fikremariam said.”[In such situations] depression sets in, they are in an existential vacuum. ‘Who am I, why I am I here?’

Good question!

* Asylees are given the same benefits as refugees, the difference is that they got to the US on their own steam and then sought asylum.  We bring refugees to the US and pay their airfare.  By the way, this is another way agencies like the IRC make money, they act as collection agents to recover the taxpayer funded airfare and then get to keep a cut for their work with only a portion going back to the federal treasury.

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