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.

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