Ft. Wayne, IN and Detroit, MI: refugee resettlement no-go cities

Well, they have not exactly completely stopped refugee resettlement, but apparently as we have just learned, here, the US State Department has slowed the flow of refugees to Ft. Wayne, IN, a city that is in turmoil from a refugee population overload combined with no employment and an apparent unwillingness of refugees to assimilate.  Previously the State Dept. attempted to slow the flow to Detroit, but refugees resettled elsewhere in the US go there on their own.

Before you read the latest news and blame all of  the problems on the federal government, consider that the US State Department cannot send refugees to cities and states against the will of the local and state governments.   The Refugee Act of 1980 gives an out for states, but to my knowledge only Wyoming so far has opted out.  Also, if the local government had the political will to say NO, and screamed bloody murder, the State Department would respond.  They don’t want any negative publicity for the program which, in my opinion, is on the verge of imploding!

Ft. Wayne needs a public meeting to discuss the problems out in the open, here.

Also, the timing of this story is interesting as we had a resident of Ft. Wayne write to us here just the other day to voice her anger at the mess in that city with refugee overload.

Here is this morning’s story from the Journal-Gazette:

The federal government placed fewer Burmese refugees in the Fort Wayne area this year than anticipated, conceding to a local economy increasingly unable to meet residents’ needs.

The State Department says about 300 Burmese refugees were resettled in the Fort Wayne area between October 2008 and October 2009, about half the number aid agencies had been expecting, a result of lobbying by agencies tasked with placing refugees in their new homes.

Although that’s the third-highest number of refugees welcomed in a year, it pales in comparison with the more than 800 refugees resettled here the year before.

Once the word gets out that a city is “welcoming” additional resettlement agencies (like World Relief in the case of Ft. Wayne) move in to take advantage of the lucrative federal contracts to resettle the relatives.   However, now, even if the State Department slows the flow, secondary migrants arrive on their own maybe from other miserable resettlement experiences such as those in Bowling Green, KY or Waterbury, CT.

After refugees are in the U.S., they’re able to move freely, so many take it upon themselves to reunite their own families, “secondary migrants,” Schlachter (State Department spokewoman) said. Buoyed by secondary migration, the city is believed to now have the largest concentration of Burmese refugees in the U.S., estimated at more than 5,000, according to Catholic Charities and other human-services agencies.

I assume readers have been seeing all the stories about a destroyed Detroit.  

Since April, at the request of local refugee resettlement agencies, the State Department has limited “family reunification” to parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. Each city’s resources available to refugees are evaluated independently, and Detroit and Fort Wayne are the only two cities with the current restrictions, Schlacter said.

Health Department overload too.

Several years of high refugee numbers stretched the resources of schools and agencies such as the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, which struggled to provide basic services such as immunizations. Even the reduced number of refugees this year was a challenge, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said.

We first learned about the problems the Ft. Wayne health department was having, here, in the fall of 2007.  State Department representatives brushed that news off  in a public meeting held in our city, Hagerstown, MD, in September of 2007.   It looks like the Allen County health department is still struggling, although they received a small grant from the federal government awhile back.  Incidentally this flow of federal money is likely why local governments don’t just say NO (see some grants to Ft. Wayne, here).


Now, check out this next section of the Journal Gazette story!   Consider that World Relief only recently moved into Ft. Wayne and consider that they are paid by the head for the new refugees they resettle and consider they told the public back in January of this year here , in the News-Sentinel, that they were only there to help with the overload, and not to resettle new refugees.   From the News-Sentinel:

At the outset, World Relief is going to work with refugees already here. Whether the agency will sponsor more refugees to the area – and how many – is undetermined.

But there is little money in being kind and working with existing refugees, the bucks are in bringing new ones!   I can only guess that that comment was to keep the public calm about more new refugees.   So, back to today’s story:

Although World Relief’s representatives agreed to the restrictions, secondary migration brings its own challenges because refugees come without the support system of a local resettlement agency, said Julie Navrotsky, church and volunteer coordinator for World Relief.

“In some ways, the restrictions have perpetuated that problem,” she said. “I think we understand both sides.”

World Relief resettled 65 refugees in Fort Wayne between January and September, about 35 fewer than it had hoped, a disappointment to the local agency, Navrotsky said.

“The purpose of World Relief coming to town was to help with the influx,” Navrotsky said.

World Relief has resettled refugees only from Myanmar this year, but it might start resettling refugees from elsewhere or begin programs to help secondary migrants, she said. Even when local refugees struggle to find work, most are grateful to be out of refugee camps, reunited with family members and in a place where their children will receive an education.

“Hopefully, the numbers will come up,” Navrotsky said.  [Edit:  that is code for needing more money to keep their office open!]

Good luck Ft. Wayne!   Soon World Relief, looking for customers, will be bringing in Somalis and Iraqis to add to your ‘diversity.’

For new readers we just two days ago discussed World Relief in Ft. Wayne, here.  Also, we have written many many posts on Ft. Wayne, so just type ‘Ft. Wayne’ into our search function to learn more.


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