Refugees from Burma strain U.S. aid groups

That’s the headline on an Associated Press article over the weekend. It follows the template of articles about refugees, beginning by focusing on a family and their difficulties. Then it goes on:

The number of Myanmar refugees settling in the U.S. has grown exponentially this year, threatening to overwhelm local aid groups and government services.

What about overwhelming local communities? Here’s more:

“We are receiving complaints on many levels within the community,” Debbie Schmidt wrote Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., on Sept. 13. “… Health has become a serious issue in this community because a large percentage of the arriving refugees are testing positive for tuberculosis.”


Souder, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, warned of a backlash from host communities toward the legal refugees at a time when the nation already is hotly debating illegal immigration.

My heart goes out to these poor Burmese. But here’s the thing: The U.S. brought in almost 14,000 Burmese refugees in the year ending September 30. But as we previously reported, there are more than 140,000 Burmese refugees in camps in Thailand. Is the best policy to bring them all here, with all the social and financial costs associated with the mass migration of people who are culturally so different and who will need government support for many years?

I don’t have an answer as to what to do with the millions of refugees around the world who need help. I just know that the United States cannot take care of all them. In the case of the Burmese, could we spend the same amount of money and help them settle somewhere nearer Burma, in case they are able to return someday, in a country where they will not be so culturally out of place?

3 thoughts on “Refugees from Burma strain U.S. aid groups

  1. The United States has no business taking in refugees from any country. It is not the responsibility of the U.S. government to pay for transportation, hand out welfare assistance and medicaid benefits for non American citizens. Our government needs to take care of it’s own citizens FIRST!
    ‘Editor’ claims that “Most refugees only receive government support for a year or less – until they get a job. Then, they get no more aid than low income citizens qualify for.”
    Has anyone ever bothered to track the lives of these refugees? It would be a likely assumption that most of them are not working, haven’t learned English (even though this is also offered to them free!) and are still receiving government assistance after that first year! Meanwhile, low-income American citizens are being turned down for government assistance. I am one of them. I am a recently disabled American who has been turned down by medicaid because the medicaid hearing judge believed that she knew more about my condition than medical professionals. I am thousands of dollars in medical debt and can no longer continue to obtain medical care. But, if I was a Burmese refugee I would be automatically qualified, wouldn’t I? I wonder what would happen if all of us “We The People” in this same situation would band together and file suit against the U.S. government? Maybe then we would be heard!


  2. A clarification: The commentor signing his name “Editor” is not an editor on this blog; it’s just his screen name.

    For a reply on tuberculosis, see the post above this one, “What about tuberculosis?”

    We agree with Editor about policies for trying to settle refugees in their own countries or neighboring countries first. And we’re not trying to bash individual refugees, who, God knows, have lived through terrible things. But unlike Editor, we don’t have such a sunny view of how refugee resettlement will turn out here, as we’ve shown in many of our posts.


  3. 14,000 resettled?! Come on, the United States implements quotas to resettle upwards of 70 – 80,000 refugees a year! If local groups are being strained, it’s because the federal government is not stepping up to its obligations to support those communities through the process. I guarantee you these refugees are tested for tuberculosis and any number of other diseases before they even step on a plane – it’s not like the federal government just rounds them up willy nilly and drops them in rural communities. I

    f there are issues with the resettlement process, the government fully has the capacity to fix it and support local communities. Don’t take out frustrations on the refugees – coming here is not their first choice, it’s their last option to have a real life. The first thing we should be doing to help the millions of refugees is to stop contributing to what makes them refugees. Then, we support strategies and aid that helps them and their first host countries to live peacefully together, so they don’t all have to come to the US. Unfortunately, Thailand does not recognize refugees, and barely tolerates them living in camps. They are far more xenophobic than even we are, and would not allow them to integrate into local communities. Burmese refugees face so many human rights abuses in those neighboring countries – many would prefer to stay there if they could.

    Refugees are easy targets for rumors and prejudice. If we give them a chance we’ll see that although the transition can be rocky, ultimately, many of them will come to contribute more to their communities than they take. Think about how much energy we put into raising child in this country – supporting a refugee gives us a great return on much less investment. Most refugees only receive government support for a year or less – until they get a job. Then, they get no more aid than low income citizens qualify for. Plus, they are required to pay back the cost of their plane ticket over here! A lot of support they receive comes from volunteer efforts and donations.


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