I just told you in my previous post that I attended a 30th anniversary celebration of the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980 at Georgetown Law in Washington, DC yesterday. Over the next few days (maybe weeks!) I’ll bring you things I learned at the “celebration.”
One of the most interesting panel discussions was the lunch panel—all refugees and asylees discussing their experiences with refugee resettlement and making recommendations for improvement. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, except for this panel and an oblique comment here and there, there was little attention paid to what I think is the ticking time bomb of the refugee resettlement program—an overload of refugees to certain cities and refugees left in the lurch by the agencies (federal CONTRACTORS) that brought them to the city in the first place.
I didn’t get the former refugees names so I will describe them and tell you what they said.
Expressing gratitude for being granted asylum in the US an African young man from Sierra Leone described how he somehow (mysteriously) got a plane ticket to the US and ended up in NYC. He was placed in detention for 4 months, but also mysteriously was visited by a lawyer from Human Rights First who helped him through the asylum process. Now he is happily making films relating to immigration issues and grateful to Human Rights First.
An African woman (I didn’t write down from what country in Africa) spent many years in refugee camps and finally got resettled in the US where she works for federal contractor—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services—and proclaimed the biggest need for refugees and the agencies was more “resources.” And, more “resources” and more “resources.” Did you get that —more “resources.” That, of course, is code for money—your taxpayer money!
An Iraqi refugee and sometime reporter for the New York Times (NYT) was very forthcoming. Asked whether Iraqi refugees in places like Syria and Jordan would go home eventually, he went on to describe how afraid they were of the terrorists. He said especially those who worked with anyone connected to the US. The moderator first posed the question as those having worked for the American military and he corrected her by saying anyone who worked for any American organization (including NGO’s) was still in jeopardy. He said that he and two other Iraqis worked for the NYT and the other two are now dead.
When asked why Iraqis were not faring well in the US, he was equally forthcoming. He described the Iraqis as having come from a culture more dependent on government. So they were having real culture shock in the US when they discovered that after 3 months or so they were expected to be on their own—working and paying bills. Of course the economy is so bad they aren’t finding work and don’t even have the skill to find a job (aren’t the contractors supposed to help with that?) he said. They are living on cash assistance and food stamps. He went on to say they are extremely fearful of being homeless!
I hope this audience of mostly eager young people was paying attention!
He described other cultural misunderstandings and said that the Iraqis needed to be better oriented to life in the US before arriving here. He said he has heard one story where Iraqi men are urging other Iraqis to not let Americans into their apartments because the Americans (especially the women) will spoil their Iraqi women by teaching them about women’s rights! (young attendees at the celebration: were you listening!).
He too said more “resources” were needed for the refugees and that they needed ”skill training” in order to find work.
When the Burmese Karen-rights activist spoke one had the sense that someone would have been happy to send up a hook and pull her off the podium. She said what we all know (and have reported repeatedly on these pages), that the Burmese are living in terrible conditions in the US. She said they fear most “living under the bridge” a reference to being homeless, and that some want to go back to camps! (Do-gooders take note!)
Her recommendations for improvement were as follows: refugees must learn to speak English and should have MANDATORY ESL classes, refugees must have thorough cultural orientation so they know how to live in the US, and she wanted Burmese resettled with other Burmese so that when the resettlement contractor finished their work in 3-6 months the refugees would have support from their community. This last recommendation though would not be happily received in cities like Ft. Wayne, IN because it is so overloaded with refugees, especially Burmese, that the city residents are on the edge (see laundromat sign story).
Then she made the bombshell recommendation—-find out where the money is going! And, she left no doubt that she was talking about the money that goes to the resettlement agency federal contractors!
I learned more from this panel then all the lawyerly governmentease that dominated the talks all day.