An inside look at the lives of Roanoke, VA refugee volunteers

Here is a feature story in the Roanoke Times about Jim and Diana Martin and their work with Bhutanese (Nepalis) refugees that reportedly consumes 80 hours a week between the two of them. [By the way, if the resettlement agency they volunteer for is in the match grant system, their hours are recorded as in-kind service and the agency gets matching cash from you —the taxpayers—for the Martin’s work, but that is a story for another day.]

Since I had just written about Iraqis returning to Iraq when their American ‘stuff’ didn’t suit them, it’s this Iraqi part of this long article about the “caring” couple that caught my attention.

….the Martins were assigned as mentors to an Iraqi woman and her two sons.

It was a disaster, by all accounts.

The Martins greeted the family at the airport, and, rather than deliver them to the apartment they’d just spent days furnishing, they took them home to their own five-bedroom house in Botetourt County.

The house was in a new development, with flower beds and a 2-acre lawn, with computers and a wide-screen TV.
“We were so naive,” Diana says.

When the weekend ended, they delivered the Iraqis to their cramped, two-bedroom apartment, with the noisy neighbors and the thrift-store TV. The family was crestfallen.

It became clear, too, that the mother suffered from anxiety attacks. She spent several nights in the emergency room and became so homesick that she begged to be sent back to Iraq.

Not a good start for the Martins (like all of us they must have assumed that the Iraqis were appreciative of their new life).

So, in deciding to turn their attentions to the Nepalis who seemed (as the article tells us):

…. gracious and happy with what they had.

They got their answer:

Were the Nepalis the people God had in mind for her now?

The answer came just after Christmas 2009. They’d been visiting her son’s family in Colorado for the holiday and returned to learn that the Iraqi family they were mentoring had gone home to Iraq while they were gone.  [Not even a good-bye and thanks?]

In 2009 we also had other Iraqi refugees returning to the Middle East from Virginia, here.

The Roanoke Times article also gives us a good answer to why our health care costs will rise!

Eventually, Lutjen (Beth Lutjen, refugee office director, Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services) asked the Martins to take on a few special cases:

The parents of a hemophiliac who couldn’t communicate with the child’s geneticist, even with an interpreter present.

Jim got the doctor to begin by describing a simple case of eye color before he launched into the couple’s chances of having another hemophiliac child.

Nar Sunawar, a man who arrived with bone infections as well as complications from childhood polio. A retired disability caseworker for the state of Texas, Diana spent weeks culling disparate medical records to prepare his claim. (“Dinah is Roanoke Mom,” Sunawar said recently at his Elm Avenue home, where Jim holds one of his three weekly English classes on the living room floor.)

A woman with an autoimmune disorder, who wrongly thought her Indian internist was overprescribing medications, causing her to bloat. Jim went with her to the doctor with the intention of firing him but came to realize the man was capable; he just didn’t communicate at their level.

“These people are off the farm with no education,” Jim explained. “Tell her: ‘Your body is trying to eat your kidney.’ “

There is more!  Read the whole article.

We have written about problems with refugee resettlement in Roanoke on many previous occasions.  In April 2008 we reported on conflicts between Black Americans and the new African refugees here.  Later that year we posted on jobless Iraqis in Roanoke, here.  But, probably the biggest refugee news out of Roanoke in recent years was the attempted kidnapping of some prominent women in the town by a bunch of refugees and the subsequent trial, here and here.  Most recently we had a national news story about a Bosnian refugee war criminal who slipped through the system and was found in Roanoke.

Roanoke’s refugees sure keep the place hopping!

Iraqi refugees returning to Iraq in large numbers

Check it out here!   Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled Iraq since the 1970s (they were fleeing Saddam Hussein!) are returning to Iraq.  Of course one of the reasons given in this post is that Syria is no longer stable and many had gone to that neighboring country.  BTW, just a reminder none had gone to rich Muslim Saudi Arabia because the Saudis have a border fence and refuse to take in refugees.

So according to this article, things have improved in Iraq and other neighboring countries are more unstable.  But, many are returning because the economic situation elsewhere isn’t so hot.  And, then some are force-ably returned by certain European countries where they have failed to make their case for asylum (that means those governments didn’t believe their story of persecution or they deemed them threats to the country).

It’s a good article with lots of numbers and charts, however it’s missing one thing I’m looking for—how many have returned to Iraq from the US after we have spent boatloads of money resettling them.  We’ve had stories of returnees who are disgusted because they thought they were walking into mansion-like homes and good jobs only to be placed in city slums and offered menial labor which they thought was beneath them.

Just two points I want to make from Musings on Iraq, but be sure to read the whole thing.

Returning for financial reasons:

A third factor is that Iraq has become more stable in the last couple years. There is still daily violence, but it is more targeted and political in nature, meaning that many Iraqis no longer personally face it on a day-to-day basis. That has been a major pull for internally displaced Iraqis to decide to try to go back to their homes, or at least their original provinces. Finally, some Iraqis have been away from home for years, and fled under duress because of the fighting. Many of those have struggled to restart new lives in their host countries, and are now returning to Iraq for financial reasons.

The number of returnees has been huge for the last three years and we didn’t hear boo about this in the mainstream media.  Where is Matthew Lee of AP?*

Earlier in 2011 it looked like the number of Iraqis coming back had stagnated. In the last few months there has been a considerable upsurge however, which makes it look like more people will return this year than last. This is still not up to the numbers seen in 2008 and 2009 when over 200,000 returns were recorded annually, but the figures are encouraging. The problem as ever is what will these people face when they go back. The lack of government and outside support is limited, and the job, housing, and service situation within Iraq is poor.

*  Lee is the Associated Press reporter who like clock work at the end of each month (when the numbers came in from the State Department) in the waning days of the Bush Administration wrote chiding articles throwing the blame to that bad old George Bush that we weren’t bringing Iraqis fast enough (because it was all our fault).  He needs now to write a story about the Iraqi terror suspects who got in, and about those who are thumbing their noses at our generosity and going home after we’ve resettled them at huge taxpayer expense.

All of our extensive coverage on Iraqi refugees can be found in our category by that title (506 previous posts).