Friends of Refugees group responds to Kansas City expose’

This is a follow-up to my post the other day about the controversy involving inadequate care of refugees in Kansas City.  I mentioned that there were many comments to the original story at The Pitch.   Below is a comment from Chris Coen of Friends of Refugees—a group we told you about in March 2008, here.  At The Pitch he informs readers about how little monitoring of the refugee program is done by the US State Department.

The way the State Department’s Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program monitors local refugee resettlement agencies is to send out two people once in a blue moon to do a monitoring inspection. The ten national refugee agency parent groups are expected to monitor their own local offices, resulting of course in all rosy reports about local agencies (what resettlement agency parent group is going to report wrong-doing by one of their affiliates?).

Based on the number of reports that they sent us in response to our Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA), the State Department inspections are done at each agency once every 8-11 years. Janice Belz of the refugee admissions program claimed that they make 35 to 50 monitoring trips per year to local resettlement agencies, but the math doesn‘t add up. We put in a FOIA for a 16 month period (July 2002 through October 2003) and received only 12 monitoring reports from the State Dept. If Belz was telling the truth, there should have been 45 to 65 monitoring reports.

The State Department monitors themselves are former employees of the refugee resettlement agencies. It should be noted that the State Department has fairly cozy relationships with the resettlement agencies, which leads to questions about their real ability or willingness to conduct real and neutral oversight. Any problems they report may shed a negative light on the refugee program as a whole and therefore on the State Department. This is why the Congress should be  doing real oversight of the Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program, but they do not.

The refugee resettlement agencies are given advance warning of the inspections, allowing things to be cleaned up before the State Department personnel arrive. We heard of one resettlement agency in Texas that prepared for six months for their monitoring inspection, so that leaves in question whether or not the State Department is really getting a clear idea of how resettlement agencies really operate. When the State Department monitors show up they examine the case files that the resettlement agencies must keep on each client, so the monitoring is not based necessarily on how refugees have been treated, but rather by what resettlement agencies claim in writing has happened. Based on those files the monitors select 3-4 refugees families to visit at their home. The monitors then try to verify from those refugees if the information contained in the resettlement agencies’ case files is accurate and complete, and they ask the refugees about their experiences and how they are doing. Strangely, if the State Department is making a monitoring trip based on complaints from the community they will not visit the refugees that are said to have been neglected. Instead the monitors will again look through the case files and select 3-4 families to visit, so no attempt is made to confirm the accuracy of community complaints. Our group complained about dozens of specific refugee families and refugees in Fargo that were neglected by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, but when the State Department monitors finally showed up after a few years they made no attempt to verify any of the complaints Instead they interviewed 3-4 refugee families that reported no specific problems. The State Department monitors were instead highly impressed by the resettlement agency’s use of three-ring binders!

By the way, there is no punishment for resettlement agencies that fail to fulfill the bare minimum required services and material items required by their State Department contracts. Instead if an agency is caught cheating they are just given a warning. If the cheating and neglect of refugees is severe then the State Department will occasionally temporarily discontinue the flow to the local refugee agency only of new refugees who are arriving without a family member or relative to sponsor them (the “free case” refugees). Very rarely will a refugee resettlement agency lose it’s State Department contract entirely, and usually only if there is media scrutiny of refugee neglect and abuse.

Missouri residents should contact their U.S. Senators and Representatives and demand that the State Department immediately investigate the complaints at JVS (the specific complaints and refugees that have been reported to have been neglected) and immediately provide these refugees with at the least the minimum required services and material items that have been contracted for. They should ask that a moratorium be placed on any continuing refugee placements with JVS until the agency shows that it will adequately care for the refugees that it has been entrusted by the public to care for.

Christopher Coen
Friends of Refugees



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