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In cities with high immigrant populations calling 911 becomes a problem

Posted by Ann Corcoran on April 25, 2010

I have this massive backlog of stories I should have posted, so I’m going to try to dash through a bunch of articles in my queue this  morning.  Here is an article from Ft. Wayne, Indiana a city we reported on just two days ago here, about how challenging it is for local law enforcement and emergency people to understand what refugees, in this case the Burmese, are asking.

From the Journal Gazette:

Dawn McGahen doesn’t remember taking calls from Burmese-speaking people when she was hired as a Fort Wayne police dispatcher in 1995. Dispatchers now take dozens of these calls each year.

As the number of Burmese refugees in the city has grown, so has the need for Burmese-speaking police officers and dispatchers. But the department has no officers who speak Burmese, and all dispatchers speak only English.

Read on.

I’ve heard some incredible stories over the last few years of the things refugees call 911 for, and wonder if this isn’t a role for the resettlement agencies.  Shouldn’t they be teaching the basics, including dealing with an emergency, in the early months of a refugee’s resettlement?  This responsibility shouldn’t fall completely on the city.  Or, is this another of those unfunded mandates coming down from Washington?

6 Responses to “In cities with high immigrant populations calling 911 becomes a problem”

  1. ellen said

    Sad, sad, sad….
    A 16 month old child playing alone in a parking lot,was struck, and killed by hit, and run.
    Officers at the scene had a difficult time communicating with the child’s Burmese speaking family because of a language barrier. FWPD does not have a 24/7 Burmese speaking translator on hand.
    “We had a horrible language barrier on the line, and the best we could get was, ‘There is a problem with my baby. My baby’s dying,’ ” Tegtmeyer said. Fort Wayne Police Dept.


  2. ellen said

    According to State Dept. operational guidance contract document.

    The Department of State expects Agencies to undertake best efforts to ensure that housing for refugees meets locally accepted standards for health and safety, and that other minimum service standards are met, but also recognizes that compliance with some aspects of this guidance may not always be possible. Compliance requires the cooperation of the refugee and his or her family members, especially in cases involving an anchor relative. In cases when non-cooperation by the refugee or his or her family member(s) makes compliance difficult or impossible, the Agencies should ensure that the refugee(s) and relative(s) are counseled and that any such counseling is noted in the case file. Likewise, there may be other barriers to full compliance that are beyond the control of the Agencies. In such instances, the circumstances should be documented.



    * Housing should be safe, sanitary, and in good repair.
    Furniture :

    * Bedding (described as bed frame and spring, or equivalent, and mattress) appropriate for age and gender composition of family. (Only married couples or small children of the same sex may be expected to share beds.)
    * One set of drawers, shelves, or other unit appropriate for storage of clothing (in addition to closet, unless closet has shelving to accommodate clothing) per family
    * One kitchen table per family
    * One kitchen chair per person
    * One couch per family, or equivalent seating (in addition to kitchen chairs)
    * One lamp per room, unless installed lighting is present
    Nope, do not see anything about furniture that ‘must’ be in good repair.

    Standards(criterion) are accepted, established rules or a model for immigration/refugees.
    Refugee cash assistance RCA, and government entitlements, refugee medical assistance RMA, and regulations of vaccinations, refugee social services RSS, are all ‘flawed because of fraud.’
    There is document fraud in the administration of immigration pertaining to immigration residency criteria, drivers license, passports, other IDs, public assistance, and related government programs.


  3. mark21281 said

    Which “seriously flawed immigration/refugee standards”? The requirement (standard) for furniture says that it must be in good repair.


  4. ellen said

    Of course it is going to happen again! It happens to 2 year old’s all the time everywhere, just look at ER stats, whether the child is a refugee or not! Seriously, are you blaming the “rickety old TV used stand” donated, or purchased, or the U.S.A.’s seriously flawed immigration/refugee standards?


  5. mark21281 said

    Did you put in an inquiry about the resettlement agency that may have given the rickety old TV used stand? If not it just sets it up to happen again, if not there then somewhere else.


  6. ralph parker said

    It is a real issue. I will share a tragic story from Clarkston,Georgia. I was approaching an apartment to visit a Bhutanese friend, when a Burmese women was holding an unconscios child of about 2 years. Our Bhutanese friends were trying to help.A TV on a rickety old used TV stand had fallen and hit the boy on the head. My wife took the child and found a pulse and did what she could. I called 911. They were there in 2 minutes. The mother could not answer any questions. She had been in the states for 3 months and spoke no English. I had worked with the Burmese and was fortunate to reach a highly educated friend who spoke to the police and women back and forth for 10 minutes.It was awkward. The police and parameds did not try to call a translating service.The little boy was rushed to the hospital and died the next day. The mother apparently waited some time to run out of the apartment screaming for help. She did no know how to call 911. The agencies do train in the use or 911 and actually our Bhutanese without cars use it too much at times to deal with somewhat at times minor medical issues. They always have someone who speaks English and they are a tight knit community.

    By the way, the Burmese mother was taken in by the police and not allowed to go to the hospital right away, as the police have to be sure there was no domestic or child abuse involved. That is what the law is and I argued with the police to let her go to the hospital to no avail.Made little sens to take her in anyways since she spoke no English.They let her go an hour or so later. This is a huge problem and there is a secondary one in the Burmese community. In Fort Wayne,they would need several trained facilitators due to the multiple languages. When the Karen first came, it was difficult to fine anyone in theolder community to help since few Burmese speak Karen.


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