IRC closes office in Boston, leaves refugees in the lurch
Posted by Ann Corcoran on May 2, 2009
Update May 4th: More details about this closure revealed here.
My fury is without bounds this morning as I read this article from the Boston Globe. The granddaddy of Corporate Humanitarianism, the International Rescue Committee, is abruptly closing its doors in Boston (along with the Globe ?) and other nearby Massachusetts cities because it doesn’t have enough federal money to keep them going. Arrghhh! Before you read this, return to my post of only two days ago where I told you about the huge salaries we taxpayers are paying for the CEO and Vice Presidents of this supposedly charitable organization. This Boston Globe story makes it sound like they are a struggling shoe-string operation!
And, since Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy is the brains behind the refugee program we are now operating under (since 1980), I hope to God we don’t find out that the IRC is dropping the lifeline for refugees they resettled in Kennedy-land in hopes of putting political pressure on Congress to give more of your money for refugee resettlement—-a bailout for the Top Ten Corporate Humanitarian organizations. Maybe Senator Ted, the hypocrit, Kennedy should take some soon-to-be-homeless Iraqis to that big house in Hyannisport, even persuade his neighbors to do the same!
To set the stage, here is how the Boston Globe story begins:
In their cramped apartment at the base of the Tobin Bridge, Jamal Al Samara, Iqbal Abid, and their three children don’t mind the rumbling of the traffic above or the occasional bang of a car crash. The Iraqi refugees learned to live with booms and other din at the home they abandoned in Baghdad.
What’s more distressing for the family – who moved to Chelsea eight months ago without a penny, with little English, and deep anxiety about living in such a different culture – is that in a month they will lose the one lifeline they’ve had since arriving in the United States.
The International Rescue Committee’s office in Boston, which over the last 30 years has helped settle more than 25,000 refugees, has told state officials it will close on June 1 – creating a vacuum in services for some of the region’s most vulnerable residents, and leaving hundreds of refugees like the Al Samara family to figure out where to turn for help with housing, medical care, food, jobs, and much more.
“This is terrible for us,” said Abid, who works 25 hours a week on the salad line at a Panera Bread in Boston, a job arranged by the International Rescue Committee. “Now, there will be no one to help us. We are afraid. We are here just a few months. We need more help.”
IRC says its not getting enough federal money! I told you two days ago that in 2007 they received almost half of their funds from the federal government (you!) and in that year it was $108 million.
Officials at the New York-based organization said they had to close the Boston office, as well as satellite offices in Worcester and Lowell, because of insufficient aid from the federal government, rising local expenses, and a dwindling donor base. They’re in the process of firing what’s left of their 32-member staff statewide, cutting links to scores of volunteers, and transitioning their clients to other organizations.
No where have I seen any of these federal contractors say that maybe with the economic downturn we should slow the flow of refugees to the US.
“This is sad, and it was a very difficult decision,” said Jenny Mincin, regional director of the International Rescue Committee, which has 23 other offices in the United States and operates in 42 countries. “But the cost of housing in Boston, the difficulty of finding the refugees employment rapidly, and the economic downturn made this necessary.”
Read this next section of the article, it’s the tipping point for my anger this morning.
When the Rescue Committee opened its Boston office in 1979 in response to a flood of Southeast Asians fleeing Cambodia and Vietnam, the State Department provided $565 per refugee to resettlement organizations. The federal government now provides $900 per refugee, but with rent and other expenses significantly higher, that amount buys significantly less today in Boston. In exchange for the payment, the resettlement groups are expected to do everything from meet the refugees at the airport to rent and furnish their apartments, buy them food, set them up with public assistance, show them how to navigate the city, find them medical care, and enroll them in job training and English programs, among many other tasks.
In short, the groups say, the government aid no longer covers their costs; they now rely on private donations and volunteers to make up the difference.
As for that $900 payment, this is misleading. It doesn’t all go to the refugee, the IRC gets to keep half of that State Department payment for their overhead. The refugee is lucky to get $450. But, what they don’t tell you here is that the IRC gets most of its federal funds from grants through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and through various programs it, like its sister groups, doles out (after taking its cut) in some mysterious fashion that is not consistent from organization to organization in the Top Ten.
And then, this CRAP about now having to rely on private donations and volunteers—THEY WERE ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO DEPEND ON PRIVATE DONATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS, IT IS A HIGHLY TOUTED PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP. It was never meant to be a completely government-funded program and if it was (or is) then let’s put the whole thing back into government control so we citizens can have at least some accountablility about where our tax dollars are spent.
In fact we have argued from day one of writing this blog that there is not enough private donor and volunteer development being done in these groups. It’s just easier to set up little bureaucracies funded by taxpayers rather than to get local citizens, churches and other groups to sponsor families. In Waterbury, CT we even saw one resettlement office actively discourage church volunteers from helping the Burmese that the resettlement office had neglected.
We have advocated from day one that every refugee family must have a local sponsor (not some other poor struggling refugee family member) for a minimum of a year. Not enough sponsors, then the number of refugees brought to the US is limited accordingly.
Closing offices sets a bad example.
That’s what another representative of a Top Ten Corporate Humanitarian organization says. However, we have reported that even Catholic Charities has been dropping the ball in its care of refugees.
Marjean Perhot, director of refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities, worried that the Rescue Committee’s closure will set a bad example for other organizations that might decide that “when it gets too expensive to settle refugees, it’s time to stop.”
Back to the apparently Muslim Iraqi family we opened with. Did anyone line them up with support from a local mosque or church? It doesn’t sound like it.
But they’re running low on cash and are worried about covering the $850 monthly rent for their three-bedroom apartment, and repaying the $5,500 they owe the federal government for their plane tickets to Boston, among other concerns.
“We’re very lucky for all the help we have received,” Abid said. “But I don’t know what we’re going to do when we need more help.”
What are they and thousands going to do as the federal funding runs out? I don’t see any move by the IRC to shutter its New York City corporate headquarters, or cut its big CEO salary (over $400,000 salary and benefits), or lay off some of its vice presidents. It strikes me as no differant than the big so-called greedy corporations paying out big salaries at the top and laying off the little guy. The differance is that groups like the IRC can hide behind their do-gooder cover—-what is that expression—-doing well by doing good.
Note to Refugee Industry lobbyists—Refugees International, Human Rights First and Center for American Progress— who are all advocating that we bring tens of thousands, indeed 100,000 Iraqis to the US THIS YEAR, are you aware of what is happening in American towns and cities to the Iraqis already here.
Maybe its time to heed the warning from the ‘wise beyond his years’ Iraqi boy in Tucson who said:
It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all.
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