Yemeni Jewish refugees brought to U.S. in secret mission

Here’s a different kind of refugee story. The U.S. State Department has resettled about 60 Yemini Jews here since August, Miriam Jordan reports in the Wall Street Journal. The story begins:

MONSEY, N.Y. — In his new suburban American home, Shaker Yakub, a Yemeni Jew, folded a large scarf in half, wrapped it around his head and tucked in his spiraling side curls. “This is how I passed for a Muslim,” said the 59-year-old father of seven, improvising a turban that hid his black skullcap.

The ploy enabled Mr. Yakub and half a dozen members of his family to slip undetected out of their native town of Raida, Yemen, and travel to the capital 50 miles to the south. There, they met U.S. State Department officials conducting a clandestine operation to bring some of Yemen’s last remaining Jews to America to escape rising anti-Semitic violence in his country.

In all, about 60 Yemeni Jews have resettled in the U.S. since July; officials say another 100 could still come. There were an estimated 350 in Yemen before the operation began. Some of the remainder may go to Israel and some will stay behind, most in a government enclave.

An unusual story, to say the least. The Yemeni government is protecting the Jews; the persecution is from local Muslims.  The U.S. government initiated the action for geopolitical reasons.

The State Department took something of a risk in removing the Yemenis to the U.S., as it might be criticized for favoritism at a time when refugees elsewhere are clamoring for haven. The U.S. calculated the operation would serve both a humanitarian and a geopolitical purpose. In addition to rescuing a group threatened because of its religion, Washington was seeking to prevent an international embarrassment for an embattled Arab ally.

The Yemeni Jews may be the oldest Jewish community in the Arab world.

Jews are believed to have reached what is now Yemen more than 2,500 years ago as traders for King Solomon. They survived — and at times thrived — over centuries of change, including the spread of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula.

Most Yemeni Jews went to Israel years ago. Israel airlifted 49,000 to their country in 1949 and 1950, leaving only about 2,000. And that raises the question: Why didn’t these people go to Israel, which is experienced at bringing in relatively primitive groups like this, and teaching them to thrive in a modern culture? It might be because the action was initiated by Yemeni Jews in New York.

New York had a community of about 2,000 Yemeni Jews. Yair Yaish, who heads the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America, says he was barraged with “desperate calls from the community here saying we have to do something to get our families out.”

The U.S. Ambassador to Yemen urged Yemeni ministers to facilitate the departure. After initial reluctance — the government preferred to give the Jews safe haven in the capital city — Yemen agreed to issue exit permits and passports.

“It was the embassy’s view, and the Department concurred, that because of their vulnerability, we should consider them for resettlement,” says a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Unlike most refugees, these Yemenis have had money raised to help them.

Jewish Federations of North America raised $750,000 to help the effort. Orthodox groups also pledged to pitch in. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was tasked with their resettlement.

Maybe there’s a clue here:

In the U.S., the Yemeni refugees are being settled in Monsey, a suburban enclave of ultraorthodox Jews, lined with strip malls that sell black coats and wide-rimmed hats worn by Hasidic men.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s network established a Monsey office, where case managers arrange housing and disburse food stamps, cash and other refugee benefits to the Yemeni arrivals. Many of the adults, caseworkers say, aren’t yet capable of budgeting, following a schedule or sitting still in a structured classroom to learn English.

It doesn’t sound as if the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society initiated this, so it’s not for the money they receive from the government. Some ultraorthodox Jews (most? I don’t know) are not Zionists: they don’t believe in the State of Israel. Perhaps they were trying to get the Yemenis here to live in their community instead of going to Israel. This story doesn’t compute, and I’d like to find out more about it. Still, one thing about the article is quite routine: the way it ends, which is pretty much the standard kind of ending for refugee stories:

On a recent morning, Mr. Suleiman, a 36-year-old father of three, retrieved an alarm clock that he received with his furnished apartment.

“I still don’t know how to use this,” he said. “The children have been playing with it.”

Hat tip: Janet Levy.

USA website seems much improved

Your tax dollars:

Update March 5th, 2010:  Maybe a new number ten, here.

Update January 29th, 2010:  There are nine federal contractors now, the State of Iowa has dropped out of the program, here.

People ask me all the time, how much does refugee resettlement cost the US.  Frankly there is no way to figure that out with any accuracy.  However, thanks to USA Spending you can get a little idea of how much the federal taxpayer shells out for the program. 

I first told you about this handy website here, but when I first used it, it didn’t seem so up-to-date, but I notice now it is much improved.

USA Spending is where you can check out how much grant money (contracts too, but I didn’t go there) that businesses, local and state governments and non-profits are getting from the federal government.  To start with I wanted to know how much the Top Ten volags (refugee resettlement contractors) were receiving now (in my previous post I found numbers for 2008).   So here is what I found for FY2009:

Church World Service:  $31,098,497   (Note that almost $900,000 of this went to their Washington DC office.  We have heard that the US State Department pays for the volags DC offices, so I’m wondering if that is what that amount is for.  Then I suppose they use the DC office to lobby for more money and for promoting comprehensive immigration reform, aka amnesty.)

Ethiopian Community Development Council:  $7,898,621

Episcopal Migration Ministries:  No report, so it must get its money in another name.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society:   $13,386,048

International Rescue Committee:   $90,790,153

US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants:  That is funny, there is no report for USCRI either and I even checked under its two other names, US Committee for Refugees and Immigration and Refugee Services of America.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services:  No report.

US Conference of Catholic Bishops:   They have their money sent elsewhere because I’ve tried to search for them before.  So, lacking any other way to find out where their (your) money goes, I’ve searched Catholic Charities and that amount for 2009 is $85,557,665.

World Relief Corporation:  $23,112,641

State of Iowa, Bureau of Refugee Services:   This is the tenth volag, but it’s beyond my abilities to figure out how much this agency gets.  I see the whole Dept. of Human Services which is the parent agency to the Bureau of Refugee Services gets $71,231,004 from the federal taxpayer. 

By the way, when you go to the links above, note in the lower right hand corner you can see how much each was awarded in previous years and you can also see a breakdown of what programs your tax dollars were used for.

Other refugee-related agencies that interested me: 

International Organization for Migration:   $301,623,246

UN High Commissioner for Refugees:   $641,255,483  (You might want to look at previous years to see how much our funding for the UNHCR has grown)