Salt Lake Tribune: great reporting on refugee resettlement

I have remarked about this previously on several occasions, while the mainstream media largely ignores the refugee problems on-going in the United States, the Salt Lake Tribune has done some balanced groundbreaking reporting on the controversial subject.  Here is the latest by reporter Julia Lyon.  Its main focus is on the Burmese refugees that have been the largest group to be resettled in recent years.  Please read the whole article and see the great graphics and a sidebar that includes a bunch of refugee hot spots (some of which we have discussed at RRW).

From New York to Utah, refugees who can’t find a job, don’t have enough food or feel abandoned by caseworkers look for help — in Thailand.

And eight thousand miles away, at all hours, Blooming Night Zan’s phone rings.

Refugees know her as a spitfire advocate for the Burmese, both those who have fled to camps in Thailand and those still living under military rule in their home country.

But over the past two years, as large numbers of Burmese refugees have been resettled to the U.S., a new cause has demanded her time: the unexpected plight of those lucky enough to get to America. 

The frustration she hears is echoing across the country, as criticism of the U.S. refugee resettlement program grows. It’s fueled in part by the arrival of thousands of articulate Iraqis who often speak English. Many are highly educated, accustomed to a middle-class lifestyle — but stunned to find themselves unemployed, receiving only brief assistance and facing poverty in America.

Critics, including us, say that the refugee program is overloaded and leaves refugees in the lurch.  The White House apparently agrees and says it goes beyond the recession.  They plan a review soon.  I won’t hold my breath though that they will let certain critics participate.  Any review this White House does will be aimed at just throwing more money at the refugee contractors!

Some critics say the recession has exposed flaws that already existed. Volunteers from Utah, Texas, Kentucky and elsewhere say they discover refugee families who don’t have enough food or coats or towels. Children in New Jersey have waited months to start school because no one has arranged for immunizations.


 “We have received growing numbers of reports about the challenges refugees are facing after arrival in the U.S.,” a White House official said. “This is partly due to the economic downturn, but it also has to do with the fact the U.S. refugee resettlement process, especially on the domestic side, has not been reviewed in many, many years.”

 [Editor:  When a law must be reauthorized by Congress and the Refugee Act of 1980 is way overdue, hearings are held and all the dirty linen is exposed, or should be.  I believe everyone in the refugee industry has feared opening that can of worms in Congress so a review of the program is long overdue!]

Here is one reason I believe the “review” will be less than honest—the refugee revolving door! 

Eskinder Negash was previously a big muckety muck at the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) largely responsible for the mess in Bowling Green, KY (see also the story in the Salt Lake Tribune sidebar). USCRI has had several of its subcontractors investigated or closed by the US State Department during his tenure there!   Now he heads the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement!  We told you about Negash here.

But the new head of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, Ethiopian refugee Eskinder Negash, points to the program’s overall achievement: resettling more than 2 million people.

“This is about saving lives,” Negash said. “I’m not saying they’re not struggling, but I’m afraid we can’t just look at it and say the system is abandoning them.”

Shortly after his appointment this summer, he said he had “never met or heard of a refugee going hungry” — a claim volunteers challenge.

Then here is confirmation of what reader Madeleine had been telling us in her guest column here.  Naive refugee agencies are plunking ethnic groups down in the same communities with those who might have been their dire enemies where they came from!  We see it too with dropping the Somalis off in neighborhoods with American blacks (they don’t like each other!).

Caseworkers may share no common language with a family. An interpreter may be paired with a refugee from an opposing ethnic group or tribe. An ethnic Burman and a Karen are from the same country, for example, but speak different languages and have a history of conflict.

“There is a real lack of understanding of context by many resettlement agencies of the people they are serving,” said Veronika Martin, executive director of the Karen American Communities Foundation. “For many Karen, the only experience they have had with a Burman person has been on the other side of a gun.”

Blooming Night Zan asks the question we have been asking on these pages since 2007!

But she has a question for America: “If you don’t want to take responsibility, why did you take this big number?”

In an upcoming post (here it is) I’m going to tell you how the resettlement of the Vietnamese was done and recommend we return to that model—a model that would help the refugees but would not continue to line the pockets of the bureaucrats in the refugee industry!

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