State Department shuts down Connecticut volag

Update May 10, 2008:  The State Department has yanked their contract, see the latest news here.

We told you a few weeks ago that the International Institute of Connecticut had come under fire from Burmese Karen refugees and their church advocates for not taking care of the refugees they had been contracted to resettle.   Now comes news that the State Department has shut them down, at least for now. 

WATERBURY — The U.S. State Department has temporarily halted the International Institute of Connecticut from processing any more refugees because of failures in the way Burmese refugees were resettled here.

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Admitting the institute was “deficient” in its handling of refugees, the president of the national organization that contracts with the State Department said until the institute changes the way it helps refugees, it will not be allowed to resettle any incoming refugees who are not related to those already here.

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“Mistakes were made and you ended up with some folks that did not get the best the resettlement community has to offer,” said Lavinia Limón, President of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, parent organization of the International Institute of Connecticut. “No one person was assigned for families. That’s difficult for people who are so lost like these people… The refugees didn’t really know who was responsible for them.”

It is maddening!  Read the whole article!   We keep hearing this story from all over the country.  We experienced it ourselves when we saw the volag here in Hagerstown, MD place refugees in the worst, most crime-ridden section of the city.  Is it just sheer incompetence, simply a case as Ms. Limon told the reporter, of things falling through the cracks.

The Burmese Karen Christians have lived in camps for years.  I don’t understand how they could possibly be independent and out to work in America within weeks or even months.   They need to learn English, they need to learn our bureaucratic mazes, and for goodness sakes they need to learn the simplest things that we take for granted.  And, I believe, the care and attention they receive from the church members will ultimately help them become a part of our culture.

On the one hand Ms. Limon says volunteers are important and on the other suggests that the refugees are being coddled by the churches.  This last comment from Ms. Limon is especially annoying.

“What I have heard is that the churches have put themselves in the position of advocacy vis-à-vis the refugees. The institute feels these refugees are its responsibility and that they’ve maybe fallen down on the job and having these third parties come in as if they are the guardians of everything that is good and right in the world has engendered some defensiveness.”

Why on earth would someone want to discourage volunteer involvement? We need less refugees and we need better care for the ones we do take, and that care involves helping them become assimilated to America.  Hurrah for the church people of Waterbury!

By the way, Lavinia Limon and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has other problem subcontractors as well.  Check out the International Institute of Erie here.

See our interview with Chris Coen, Friends of Refugees, for more on how refugees have been left in the lurch by government funded volags.

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