Vermont: Iraqi refugees feel abandoned and betrayed

Thanks to an anonymous reader who sent us this link to a story that was published in December about unhappy Iraqi refugees in Vermont.   We didn’t see it at the time it was originally published so we very much appreciate getting it now.

It’s the same story we have been reporting for months so I’m not going to focus on the Iraqis lengthy complaints against the resettlement agencies except to set the stage with this paragraph early in the article.

After describing all the awful things that happened to his family in Iraq, Hamid, a Sunni Muslim tells the reporter why he is most angry.

But on the day we meet, Hamid isn’t venting about the militants who tortured and killed his relatives, or the U.S. occupation of his homeland, which he describes only as “incorrect.” Instead, his frustration and anger are directed at, as he puts it, “the refugee center,” which he claims promised him and his family good housing, a decent job and financial support until they got on their feet again. Like the other three Iraqis hanging out at the market that day, Hamid says he feels abandoned and betrayed.

Please read the article yourself for the litany of complaints this group of Iraqis is reporting. 

This is the part that interests me today, and its something I have asked about on previous occasions.  Who is telling these Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria that they are going to a country whose streets are paved with gold?

…. Scott (Judy Scott, director of Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program) readily acknowledges that some of the Iraqis may have been woefully misinformed before they arrived here. A possible source of that confusion could be the orientation classes that refugees take before their journey — classes that, Scott has discovered, don’t always paint an accurate portrait of refugee life in America. And evidence from elsewhere suggests that a sense of disillusionment is felt not just in Vermont, but among Iraqis who’ve resettled elsewhere in the United States.

No kidding!   Vermont becomes state #17* in our list of states where we have reports that Iraqis are unhappy, can’t find work, live in substandard housing and want to go home.   We have written over 300 posts on Iraqi refugees, and I’m too lazy to search for the links, but I recall there was a period of time when our NGO’s were working with the press to beat the Bush Administration over the head to bring more Iraqis ASAP, but I distinctly recall that there weren’t even enough families signed up with the UN, and even some of those who did sign up didn’t show up for their plane flights to the US.  This is just a hunch but I think there was some major push to get Iraqis signed up and maybe that is where this deception was promoted.

Newland (Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute) says the complaints from Burlington’s Iraqi community are not markedly different from what she’s heard elsewhere in the country. By talking to refugees and advocates, both here and abroad, she’s learned that the orientation programs Iraqi refugees receive overseas can vary widely. Some still promote a “streets-are-paved-with-gold mentality” about life in America.

In addition to this major disconnect between what the orientation program promoted abroad and reality, there is wide variation in what benefits refugees receive from state to state and even city to city in the US.   What Newland says here exposes a serious problem with the refugee resettlement program as we know it today and why we are promoting reform.

Moreover, once the refugees arrive and fan out across the United States, the social services for which they’re eligible can differ markedly from state to state and from program to program. For example, refugees in Vermont may have heard from relatives in Michigan or California that they’re getting public assistance not available here. As Newland puts it, “It’s a very confusing picture, and it’s hard for people to understand that.”

Was there no effort made to educate refugee personel about how different the well-educated and formerly well-off Iraqis are compared to refugees coming from life in crowded camps?   Apparently not.

The [refugee] agencies aren’t really set up to deal with populations that regard a cellphone or a laptop as a basic human right,” Newland notes. “But that’s what this population is used to. So it requires some nimbleness to respond to those needs without appearing to discriminate against other groups.”

Even R.’s friends, many of whom were doctors, lawyers and dentists in Baghdad and now live in Boston, Michigan and California, report that jobs are few and far between.

“They are so depressed!” she says. “They say that if they had money for a plane ticket, they’d return to any Middle East [nation].

Maybe the Iraqi government should send a plane, just as they did to Egypt, and bring these people home so their lives won’t be squandered hanging around GlobalMartVT.

Hey here’s a thought!  While Obama’s friends at the Center for American Progress are promoting airlifting a hundred thousand Iraqis here, let’s promote a reverse airlift back to the Middle East for all the unhappy Iraqis living in 17  US states.

* Vermont becomes state number 17 in our parade of states with no jobs and unhappy Iraqi refugees. The 16 others are: Arizona, Maryland, New Hampshire,Virginia, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Idaho, Connecticut, New Mexico, California, Utah, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. See our Iraqi refugee category for all these stories and more.

Comment worth noting: “don’t overthrow the system”

We recently set up this category “comments worth noting” to highlight reader comments that are posted not to our most recent posts but to older posts and thus might be lost.   Here is one from reader Karin posted to our “Fact sheets” link above.

I appreciate this comment because it gives me an opportunity to tell new readers why we do what we do at Refugee Resettlement Watch.  Here is what Karin said:

There’s always two sides to every story. Though Lewiston had a lot of adjustment issues when many Somali people started to move there, it seems like the situation has turned around:

In response in general to your blog…you have your points, but I’d watch your approach. I wouldn’t attack volags as much as you do because the problems involve a lot of things that are outside almost anyone’s control.

Also, you talk about people going back to their countries…most people think that life in America will be great, but having no experience with high costs of living and no job experience the realities are tough. I work in a resettlement office and what everyone is up against is staggering. Many people do just want to go back. But with time they adjust. Many of our Iraqi clients wanted to go back when they were faced with certain realities. Having lived a fairly prosperous life in Baghdad only years before and living as urban refugees before coming to the United States, the situation brings different dynamics than affording the opportunity for a good life to a Somali Bantu family whose people have been discriminated against for hundreds of years.

Remember too that we are providing opportunity to some extraordinary people that have already lived through a lot. They are given the freedom to live, work and access social services just like any other American. I say, why not? Get some reform going, but don’t overthrow the system.

First, Karin said,  “There’s always two sides to every story” and links the puff piece from Lewiston, ME on the Somalis.   I’m not faulting Karin here when I point out that the piece in Newsweek caused a firestorm of criticism and was thoroughly debunked by the leaders in that town.  How could she have known that?   She couldn’t have unless she was a regular reader here.  (See posts here, here and here)  Because both sides are rarely reported when refugee stories are written by the mainstream media, we see our role as helping to balance all of those stories I call ‘refugees see first snow stories.’

I don’t want to make this post too long and boring, but if our local newspaper, the Hagerstown Herald Mail, had done its duty to the citizens of Washington County, MD there wouldn’t be a Refugee Resettlement WatchHere is what I wrote on September 14th, 2007:

As a matter of fact, I credit the Herald-Mail with helping give birth to Refugee Resettlement Watch. I was not particularly concerned with the Virginia Council of Church’s screw-ups. And, I am sure many of the refugees are fine people. My driving force is my interest in good government. I hate it when government teams up with anyone—developer, preservationist, church group— on the taxpayer’s dime, all the while keeping residents in the dark. It is patronizing and elitist.

I would not have embarked on this if the Herald-Mail had done its job in the first place and researched this issue so citizens knew how refugees came to be in Hagerstown. But, obviously the Herald Mail editors must have assumed their position in support of more refugees would not have stood up to public scrutiny if the facts were known. Since they can’t win in the arena of ideas, leftwing publications, like the Herald Mail, turn to their weapon of choice—manipulation.

If the refugee resettlement program is good for refugees and good for the citizens of communities where refugees are resettled then all those involved should be ready and willing to tell everyone how the program works—the good, the bad, the ugly.  When that starts to happen we will stop trying to “overthrow the system.”   LOL! If only that were possible.

Note to those in the refugee resettlement business:  You know this program needs to be reformed, you are going to have to stop being so chicken and start speaking up.   The way its going now, it will implode.

Is Obama abandoning the Iraqi refugees?

From the Pro Publica website comes news that Obama has changed our policy towards Iraq in more ways than militarily. Pro Publica describes itself as “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” “Public interest” is usually a code word for leftist, and this group is funded by the Sandler Foundation, which also funds the Center for American Progress, the leftist think tank that provides ideas to Barack Obama, and other leftist causes. 

Nevertheless, Pro Publica is providing a good service by tracking changes on the White House website, and this piece on changes on the Iraq page reports a change that may or may not be significant:

Previous to the change, the agenda page was more or less a shortened version of its predecessor [3] at the Obama campaign Web site.

Some differences we found interesting:

  • Nearly one-fifth of the original version was devoted to “Preventing Humanitarian Crisis,” promising “at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees and ensure Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary.” The word “humanitarian” is absent from the new version.
  • The new version flatly states: “Iraq’s future is now its own responsibility.”
  • And in the new version, the administration states outright their interest in “preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon” and for “actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world.”

Looking at their page that shows a direct comparison, I see that the Iraqi refugees have not actually been left out.  The old site says this:

President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that America has both a moral obligation and a responsibility for security that demands we confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis — more than five million Iraqis are refugees or are displaced inside their own country. Obama and Biden will form an international working group to address this crisis. They will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary.

In the new version, the refugee policy is buried inside one sentence:

We will work to support Iraqi national elections in 2010, help improve local government, serve as an honest broker for Iraqi leaders as they resolve difficult political issues, increase support for the resettlement of Iraqi refugees, and help strengthen Iraqi institutions and their capacity to protect rule of law, confront corruption, and deliver services.

I present this just as a possibly interesting development, and to show you the cool capability this website has for comparing before-and-after on the White House website. I never believe anything Obama says anyway, so I don’t think it makes any difference what is on his website. He will say and do whatever suits his agenda. So the answer to my question in the headline is, “Who knows?”

Will the real Ken Bacon please stand up!

On Monday Reuters published an opinion piece by Ken Bacon head of Refugees International in which he lays out a game plan for the Iraqi displaced people.  He mentions resettlement in passing and tells us that the Obama Administration should increase aid to neighboring countries, Syria and Jordan, who have large numbers of Iraqi people still living in their countries.  

Most significantly he says the following in the Op-Ed entitled, “Obama Pledges To Help Millions of Displaced Iraqis Return Home.”

The next challenge is to convince the UN, the U.S. and the government of Iraq to work more closely together to create conditions for safe return. Some 2.6 million Iraqis are displaced within their own country, on top of as many as 2 million refugees. This population is too large to be resettled or absorbed by other countries; the only reasonable solution is for them to return to Iraq. In fact, Iraq needs them back. Many of the refugees are professionals—lawyers, engineers, doctors and teachers—who are needed to help rebuild their own country.

Where have I heard that before?  Right here!  Judy and I have been saying that for months and months.   We have also pointed out in dozens of posts that the Iraqis coming to the US are not faring well.

Look at this photo published in a Finnish newspaper yesterday of the Iraqi refugee headed home to Iraq from Utah.   For the whole story, see Judy’s post here.  Friends had to scrape together the money for his plane ticket home.   Why aren’t the volags, who obviously did not do a good job of resettling this family, required to pay the airfare home for those who want to leave the US?

The caption (in case this link disappears at some point) on the photo of the man weeping and in a wheelchair is:

Tarek Darwish weeps as his son Husham Shammar, 17, wheels him to the vehicle that will take him to the airport for a three-day journey back to Iraq, away from his family, at right, Thursday Feb. 26, 2009 in Murray, Utah. For former Iraqi attorney Darwish, his wife Nahida Mahmoud and their five children, arrived in Utah as refugees craving a new and better life but instead it has been a list of disappointments.

So, if we can believe that Bacon, whose organization just this past November urged Obama to bring 105,500 Iraqis here this fiscal year, has changed his tune, then we will be right in line to cheer him on in this new, more sensible, and more humane approach.