Pittsburgh: World Refugee Day brought out the diversity, but few Americans

Here is an article at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it’s the kind of article that Refugee activists wanted to come out of the PR event we told you about last week—World Refugee Day, except for a little twist at the end.

Cute Bhutanese/Nepali girls dancing in Pittsburgh. Recently I heard that the Nepalis in PA don’t want to live near African Americans and do not want African refugees in their neighborhoods—guess they haven’t completely bought into the ‘diversity is beautiful and America is a melting pot’ mythology! Photo:Pam Panchak

After introductory paragraphs about music and dancing and how refugees are opening shops (with government supported micro-loans—NO they didn’t mention the micro-loans), and how Pittsburgh is such a magnet for refugees (because the State Department and contractors have tagged it—NO they didn’t mention that either), just that prosperous Pittsburgh is on the lips of refugees worldwide (or so we are led to believe).

Below is the section of the Post-Gazette story I want to bring to your attention because it contains some interesting facts (well, sort of facts) that might be useful in case any “pockets of resistance” might be interested in getting a start in Pennsylvania (we learned here in Lancaster that there was no resistance in welcoming PA):

According to the latest statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are approximately 15.4 million refugees in the world. Fewer than 1 percent of all refugees are resettled outside of the country to which they fled, according to the State Department.

From the small number who are approved for resettlement, the United States accepts more than half of these refugees. Then, nine national nongovernmental organizations work to resettle them. Of those nine, 350 affiliated offices around the country assist refugees during their first few months in the country, relying on a small amount of money from the U.S. government. [When originally designed in 1980 this was supposed to be a public-private partnership but over decades the public share has grown to sometimes 90% of the cost of resettling the refugees.—-ed]

But soon, refugees are on their own. [Basically they are pushed out on their own because their contractors only get paid to help them for a few months and want to move on to the next batch of paying clients—ed]

“When refugees come to the United States, they actually have to pay back their airfare to the U.S. government,” Ms. Rudiak said. “They’re expected to be self-sustaining in a period of six or seven months.”  [This airfare business is an outrage!  They aren’t all paying it back and those that do are helping fund the collection agency—the contractor who settled them—which gets to keep a portion of the money they wring out of refugees.  It does not all go back to the federal treasury! So far the State Department refuses to release the exact numbers—ed]

Refugees often prefer Pittsburgh to other U.S. cities, said Kheir Mugwaneza, director of Community Assistance and Resettlement for the Northern Area Multi-Service Center, one of the four Pittsburgh NGOs that do resettlement. The others include Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Catholic Charities and Acculturation for Justice, Access & Peace Outreach, each of which has national affiliates in Washington, D.C.  [Any citizens forming pockets of resistance must become familiar with the workings of the contractors—ed]

Mr. Mugwaneza said NAMS resettles about 200 people each year. The city’s decent job market and affordable housing help refugees become self-sustaining more quickly than elsewhere, he said. And many choose Pittsburgh as a second resettlement location, moving here from different U.S. cities once they hear about the opportunities, he said.

Then get this!  Native Pittsburghers did not come out to celebrate diversity!

From hip-hop lyrics rapped in Swahili to native Bhutanese dances, Saturday’s celebration shed light on a few of Pittsburgh’s cultural offerings.

But a look around the room revealed a dearth of native Pittsburghers, which as Mr. Mugwaneza pointed out, hampered a main goal of the event: connecting Pittsburghers to the refugee community. He’s hopeful the event’s scope will expand next year.

Haji Muya, 21, a Somali refugee who grew up in Kenya in Kakuma, the world’s largest refugee camp, performed a few original raps for the second year at the event. He’s president of the music label LKF Entertainment, which stands for “Lil Kiziguwaz Family.” While he supports the diversity celebrated at the event, he agrees with Mr. Mugwaneza.

“If we’re promoting cultures, we need to have American culture next year,” he said. “It would be more diverse if the Americans came, too.”

Celebrate American culture too!  What a novel idea!

For new readers, we have an archive on refugee problems in Pittsburgh here.

7 thoughts on “Pittsburgh: World Refugee Day brought out the diversity, but few Americans

  1. The World Refugee Day celebration in Clarkston Georgia was also without much American participation from the regular community. It was poorly publicized but in general I do not think Americans are interested in meeting refugees as we are very insular either that are pwople are afraid because of language etc,
    All refugees I havemet from any country all want to avoid African Americans, Most refugees are posted to poor slum like area where there is a majority black population. They are fearful because nearly all the crime in DeKalb County GA is by African Americans. I would guess 85%. Evenn Africans want to avoid the safety issues.

    i teach tolerance and that all colors etc are the same. They all agree that there are good and bad in every race and some have African American friends, but the fear is still there because of incidents and the news, They are afraid to walk in Clarkston at night. Recently an African immigrant was killed on a local college campus by an African American with a record who lived in one complex with a huge refugee population.

    When refugee buy homes, they are in middle class mixed areas and the predjudice can dissapate. While I preach tolearnce, I can go home to my 99% white suburban home neighborhood so it is probably easy to pontificate. I would be equally afrais as a white American if I lived in Clarkston.

    The problem is the lack of role examples and mentors in the African American community and a entitlement view in many cases.

    The Bhutanese are no different than any other group. They all want safety and whar they see and hear is all black crime.

    It is a societal issue and there are few solutions.


    1. Ralph, I sure didn’t mean to imply that the Bhutanese were the only refugees afraid of black people. My source says its African Americans AND newly arrived Africans that they are concerned about. I only point it out because there is a certain double standard. Whites are racists when they fear Africans in their neighborhoods, while other people (other ethnic groups) are not called racist for the same thing—instead they have simply a normal sensible (for safety sake) understandable fear.

      And so, if African Americans need more mentors and role models, and less of an entitlement mentality, aren’t we just perpetuating the problem by bringing in tens of thousands of African refugees and putting them on welfare?


      1. I think you’re missing the point of systemic racism. If Bhutanese or Somali immigrants don’t want to live in majority African-American neighborhoods, they generally don’t have the power to organize and exert influence to keep African Americans out (as whites historically and contemporarily have), or the financial resources to leave en masse (as opposed to white flight). No one can really control people’s thoughts — certainly people across races/cultures may harbor prejudiced views — it’s access to a system that preserves white hegemony in which lies the issue of racism (which is different than prejudice).

        You might find this interesting – http://www.npr.org/2013/06/27/195598496/americanah-author-explains-learning-to-be-black-in-the-u-s


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