Iraqi refugees in Atlanta voice their unhappiness to IRC’s CEO

Your tax dollars:

I must say even I am getting tired of one article after another about Iraqi refugees struggling to find their way in Any City, USA.  Maybe you are too, but I think you will enjoy this aspect of the same old story. 

The basic story we have reported more than 20 times now is:

* Iraqi refugees misled by officials abroad about how great their lives in the US will be, 

* Iraqis can’t find employment and many are highly skilled, evictions possible,

* Refugee agency ‘poor mouths’ and claims they are struggling along with meager funding, trying to do their best they tell reporters,

* Iraqis are savvy enough to know how to voice their complaints to the media, unlike refugees from camps such as the Burmese or Bhutanese,

* No resolution to the problems in sight, refugee program will soon emerge on the national stage as more refugees continue to pour into the country.

This article today from the Atlanta Journal Constitution contains a revealing bit of news.   George Rupp, former President of Columbia University and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, one of the Top Ten government contractors has gone to Atlanta and called a meeting of disgruntled refugees.

Atlanta welcomes more than 2,000 refugees every year, many of whom are fleeing terror or have lived the bulk of their years without a homeland. But amid a severe recession in this country, the struggle to begin anew is greater than ever.

Expectations dashed and pocketbooks quickly emptied, jobless refugees are left to ponder whether the lives they left behind, though mired in fear, might have served them better.

“What do I have to expect? Being homeless? This is the United States. Life should be better than that,” says an angry Zainab Ibrahim, an accountant who fled to Jordan from her native Iraq and was resettled in Atlanta last June.

She came with hope, as did her compatriots Jabber Mohammed, Abdulkadir Ahmed and Imad Yakoub, middle-class professionals who expected to find suitable employment here.

Some aired their frustrations one April afternoon at the Decatur office of the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit agency that resettles refugees. George Rupp, president and CEO of the global organization, was visiting the Atlanta office to hear from Iraqis like Ibrahim, now dependent on the generosity of friends and family to pay her bills.

Rupp says American resettlement agencies feel a moral responsibility for Iraqi refugees because of the 2003 invasion and subsequent U.S. involvement in Iraq. It took the United States several years to open its doors to Iraqis displaced in the war that began in 2003. It’s unfortunate, Rupp says, that when they finally began arriving in America, it was in the midst of an economic downturn.

Corporate Humanitarianism

Let me tell you a little about Dr. Rupp and his struggling refugee agency.   This is from their 2007 Form 990:

The IRC took in $253,733,301 in that year and $108,201,276 came from you, the taxpayer, in the form of government grants.   Think about it— over $108 million!  That is almost half of all their funding.

Dr. Rupp’s salary and benefits package amounted to $412,540 which is more than the  President of the United States or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court makes. 

Four Vice Presidents in New York receive salary and benefits ranging from the high $100,000’s to nearly $250,000.    They spent around a half a million dollars on fundraising consultants and $444,000 on their financial audit alone.   

All this and they leave refugees living in fear of being evicted from their apartments and being homeless in the mean streets of America.    Where is the IRC’s moral responsibility?

We’re seeking emergency funding [Edit: this means from you the taxpayer] to prevent homelessness,” says Beattie of the International Rescue Committee.

She doesn’t know of a family who is on the streets yet, but is concerned about the high number of eviction notices. Refugees in Georgia are not immediately eligible for subsidized public housing, prompting some to migrate to states such as Maine where such housing is available.

Yes, just ship them off to Maine where the taxpayers can pick up the tab.  Maybe the IRC ought to cut a few salaries and help the people they feel a moral responsibility to!

Do you know how the Obama Administration is attempting to cap salaries of bank executives and other business executives that get taxpayer funding, same principle applies here, or does ‘spreading the wealth’ not apply to the work of do-gooders? 

I hope  you are reading this Mr. Parker.

Comment worth noting: I am just not sure why your site is so anti-refugee

We had a good comment overnight from a reader named Ralph Parker from Atlanta.   I say good, because although he criticizes us, he says lots of things that give us an opportunity to explain again why we are here.  We have done that on previous occasions, but unless someone is a regular reader, one wouldn’t know that.

Mr. Parker’s comment is long and so I’ll break it into segments to respond.  Mr. Parker:

I am an American advisor and volunteer with the Bhutanese refugees in Atlanta. I have worked almost every Saturday for the last 12 years with refugees from Bosnia, Russia, Kurdistan, Burmaa and Afghanistan. Refugeed really struggle here.There is a terrible system where refugees are given essentially 90 days to get their life together and in this economyy that is impossible.

We agree, refugees are struggling and since we began writing RRW in July 2007, we have written 1,842 posts and at least half of those are about refugees struggling. Frankly, the system stinks.  If you note in the right hand column of this page, we advocate the reform of the Refugee Resettlement Program.  The whole thing needs to be scrapped and replaced and no one on the inside is going to make a move to change anything (except to ask for more taxpayer money).    It has become a racket, a huge bureacracy with lots of white collar salaries, some at RELIGIOUS organizations and virtually no accountablility (until an agency screws up as in Waterbury, CT last year).

Additionally, it is only recently that the mainstream media, mostly the print media so far, has even begun to look deeper and beyond the puff piece stories of refugees making it in melting pot America.   So, someone has to speak critically, and that is us!

Mr. Parker:

An ideal situation would be to provide a years support with mandated ESOL, skill training and acculturation. The agencies struggle to find funds after RCA expires. We have had families evicted. There is no safety net. If we are going to bring them here, then we cannot expect them to pay for their airfare or become economically viable in a short time.

We agree again, the refugees must be required to attend English classes, skill training and acculturation classes.   None of that is happening, even for a short time refugees are not required to attend English classes.   We recently began recommending classes on American culture because we are seeing increasing friction, mostly from Muslim refugees, between Americans and Muslim fundamentalists who seem to be saying they want us to accomodate them.   (See Shelbyville post here and Judy’s response to Jake here.)

I don’t know the legislative history of the Refugee Act of 1980 (Kennedy, Biden) that created this program, but I will bet that the reason for requiring that refugees get to work quickly is because those Senators who objected to the Act must have said we can’t be importing poverty to America and thus broaden our own welfare class.   As a matter of fact, that is the refrain we hear most often from local citizens who object to refugees—the refugees are getting taxpayer funded welfare when we have our own poor people that need care. 

I am not saying we need to just throw more money at the refugee program.  It must be reformed and returned to a system that expects more private charity.  It is inevitable, once these so-called non-profits (the volags) hired by the federal government to care for refugees were being paid for their charitable work, less responsibility for charity is required of churches and other organizations that might have sponsored families.   That is the lesson we are learning right now generally with the Obama Administration—when government starts to take care of ones every need, people come to expect to be cared for (but I’m digressing). 

We have advocated that each refugee family be sponsored by a church or other such organization for at least a year.  This would be private charity, not taxpayer funded charity!

One thing to think about is that the Refugee Act of 1980 is still under 30 years old.  Nothing is set in stone, the whole thing can be rewritten.  As a matter of fact, I bet its due for reauthorization anyway and they (the refugee industry bureaucrats) are just  postponing it because they know it will open a whole can of worms if it is discussed in public.

But, I think Mr. Parker you are seeing and we know, that the program will implode sooner or later.  As the public becomes increasingly aware of unemployed, evicted refugees showing up in homeless shelters while the State Department keeps the spigot open to tens of thousands of additional refugees each year.

And on that airfare issue.   Do you know Mr. Parker that the ‘charitable’ groups contracted to resettle refugees get to keep half of the airfare they collect from refugees although the money originally came from the taxpayer.  The other day I noticed in an article that one struggling refugee family was expected to pay $200 a month toward their airfare bill.  That is completely set arbitrarily by the resettlement agency, not the federal government!    I do think the refugees should eventually repay the taxpayer, not the ‘charitable’ organization for the airfare, but it could be done on some scale based on the employment of the refugee.   I just raise this here to demonstrate further that this program needs to be reformed!

Mr. Parker:

We have 1100 Bhuatanes in Atlanta. These are in general the most humble and kind people who I have worked with. Nepal and Bhutan had 16 meetings to try to solve the repatriation problem. We cannot have these people languish in camps for another 18 years. Almost all the young people speak English and do well at school. There is no crime in this community. As a matter fact there is far more crime commited by young African Americans then refugees. We have many domestic issues that should be of greater concern.

I have nothing to say here, except at what point do we draw the line?  We can’t take all the world’s impoverished.  See the Numbers USA video at the top of our page here.

Mr. Parker:

I am just not sure why your site is so anti refugee. We are all refugees/immigrants of some sort. I believe people are afraid because todays refugees are not white.

I’m getting weary, we have responded to this issue of race so many times that I can’t do it again.  It has nothing to do with race.  We have a concern that some cultures are not compatible and are unwilling to become compatible with American culture.  Muslims who wish to promote Shariah law are NOT compatible whether they are white Bosnians or black Somalis.   As for the latter, I predict that one day we will come to realize that allowing the massive number of Somalis into the US, as the State Department has done over the last 25 years, will be one of America’s greatest blunders in history.   I take your word for it that the Bhutanese are nice people.

As for us being anti-refugee, I can only say perhaps you should hang around for awhile, read more here and consider what I have just said above.    This will soon be a book if I keep going!

Mr. Parker ends with this:

I would suggest you readers actually volunteer and spend time with reg\fugee families.Most are the victims of politics and just want to live in peace. The parents want and sacrifice so much for their children, which is what countless generations did before. The older people miss Bhutan while the younger only know what they hear and consider themselves Nepali. I believe of all the groups settlinh here, this will be the one with the least problems over a period of time Most agency officials concur. Please give these people a chance. their families go back 150 years in Bhutan.

Americans generally are very generous with time and money.  Each of us chooses how we donate both (time and money) and to what charitible causes.  Advocates for refugees, we have learned,  can turn off local people by attempting to bully them and guilt-trip them into supporting the refugee cause.   I noticed that when we had the controversy over refugees where I live. Decent people who give huge amounts to charity for the impoverished were made to feel guilty because they weren’t willing to embrace a foreigner.  Mr. Parker, if that is your charitable work—refugees—you are to be commended, but you can’t brow-beat others to drop what matters to them.  In other words, what makes you feel good about yourself, may not be what makes others feel good. 

And, here is something else to consider, do the feelings of local people who have been living in a culture of their own in any city or town in America have no value?  Do they have no right to say what sort of community they wish to live in?   Why does the welfare of immigrants supercede the welfare of long-time Americans?   A topic for another day!

One final thought, I believe those of you who think we are anti-refugee are so used to hearing everything about refugees couched in such politically correct and glowing terms and have heard it for such a long time that you are no longer thinking, just feeling, and thus incapable of evaluating the refugee resettlement program in its entirety.   Any criticism of the program, its goals, its structure threatens you personally.

Advocacy group says U.S. is failing to expedite Iraqi refugees who helped U.S.

A press release from Human Rights First states:

Only 4,200 Iraqis with U.S. ties have made it to the United States since 2003, though at least 20,000 have applied, and the number of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis may be as high as 146,000, according to a new report issued today by a leading human rights group.

The report, Promises to the Persecuted: The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008, issued by Human Rights First, examines implementation of this critical legislation.

The point of the legislation was to shorten the processing time for Iraqis who had helped the U.S.  But times remain long.

“Iraqis seeking safety in the United States can wait a year or more for their applications to move through the system,” says Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein, who authored the report. “We pin the delays on two problems – inadequate staffing and inefficient security clearance procedures. The result is that thousands of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are stuck in Iraq and other countries in the region, facing danger and destitution. The absene of direct access to the U.S. refugee program in Syria and Turkey, where the need is significant, exacerbates the problem.”

I posted on Human Rights First in December. At that time a spokesman was criticizing the Iraqi government’s campaign to get refugees to return home, saying the refugees saw it as propaganda.

I’ve long been puzzled by the lack of emphasis until very recently on helping the Iraqi refugees to return.  And I’ve wondered at statements from refugees that they would be killed if they returned, even after sectarian violence in Iraq was greatly reduced. Now I wonder if our correspondent Vav could help me out. Are Iraqis who helped the United States still in special danger? Could they safely return? Seeing how badly off so many Iraqi refugees are in this country, would it make sense to put more emphasis on repatriating even those Iraqis with ties to Americans?