A chronology of desperation for refugees (and the community) in North Carolina (Part III)

This is the third part in a series I began posting yesterday about refugees left in the lurch in Greensboro, NC and how the citizens of that community, concerned for the refugees’ welfare, have been calling for a breather in the resettlement process that is expected to soon bring another 800 refugees to Guilford Co.   See Part I and Part II.

A Lutheran Family Services employee resigns but the answer to the citizens’ questions about why the flow can’t be slowed is at the end of reporter Lorraine Ahearn’s most recent article, last Friday, in the News-Record:

GREENSBORO — The state director of refugee services resigned at Lutheran Family Services this week as the agency struggles with resettlement problems for recent Iraqi arrivals.

LFS, one of four local nonprofits that contract with the State Department to resettle political refugees from war zones, will review the number of new arrivals for 2010, agency spokeswoman Sabrina Goins said.

The nonprofit has been the subject of ongoing complaints of substandard housing and lack of services for Iraqi refugees brought to Greensboro in late 2009. But Goins said the resignation of state refugee director Kristen Lovett was voluntary and unrelated to complaints from the community. Lovett said she will be working in Ethiopia. Beginning in February, LFS CEO Suzanne Gibson Wise will spend two days each week in Greensboro.

Until a replacement for Lovett is found, the agency’s executive director, Laura Benson, will fill in.

Goins called the review of the resettlement numbers routine. “What’s going to be happening is we’re going to be revisiting the numbers to see what can be handled.”

State Refugee Coordinator Marlene Myers, who monitors the refugee picture for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said she is seeking talks with the State Department and national nonprofits on this issue. This comes after a November meeting with local volunteers who expressed misgivings about the resettlement process.

Four resettlement agencies are competing to resettle refugees in formerly welcoming Greensboro because they are paid by the head and must find cities that don’t squawk too loudly.  Sounds like the refugee advocates are even unhappy; can you imagine the anger of the other citizens who question the logic of this program in the first place.

“If a community is being negatively impacted, we will plan to have conversations,” Myers said of comments she heard at the Refugee Information Network of Guilford meeting in November at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

“I took it as people being concerned about capacity. Do we have the capacity for jobs and self-sufficiency?”

About 40 percent of the state’s incoming refugees will resettle through the four local agencies, according to current projections for this fiscal year. The other local agencies include N.C. African Services Coalition, Church World Services and World Relief of High Point.

That is as many as 800 refugees, some with large families, some coming directly from the war zone. Given the Piedmont’s continuing unemployment and pressure on charities and community foundations, refugee sponsors said they felt overwhelmed by the influx.

Can’t we slow the flow?  Yes you can!  Elected officials, especially at the Federal level, can contact the US State Department and tell them ‘NO more for now!’  Local officials and citizens should call your Congressman and US Senators today and demand a moratorium!  Complain here too!

Now, finally, at the end of Ms. Ahearn’s report is the real answer why, in the face of criticism from apparently all sides, this program in Greensboro is not given a breather—the resettlement contractors are powerful and they want their money!   They will have to lay off staff and close offices if the federal taxpayer funding spigot is turned off!

“A pastor stood up at our very first meeting and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to slow down or halt a little until we can take care of the people and absorb what we already have?’” said the Rev. Virginia Herring, assistant rector at Holy Trinity, one of the churches involved in refugee sponsorship.

Myers said the Triangle experienced a temporary slowing of refugee arrivals last year to allow the area to catch up. The drawback is for the resettlement agencies themselves, if the slowdown lasts.

“If they don’t bring in refugees, they lose their jobs,” Herring said. “Of course, the victims in all this are the refugees.”

Reforms needed!  Get the middle men (these supposed non-profit groups) out of the resettlement business!

Endnote:  The Obama Administration, even in this economic recession, has proposed bringing the largest number of refugees to the US since before 9/11, here.

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