The real spirit of World Refugee Day
Posted by Christopher Coen on June 18, 2010
June 20th marks World Refugee Day, a day when we look at the plight of all refugees, not just those resettled to the U.S., but the overwhelming majority of refugees who will never be resettled here or to any other nation. While the world’s refugee population is growing, the world is able to resettle less than 1% of them. The cost of resettling refugees is inarguable enormous, which always brings up the issue of the best way to spend limited resources on the world’s refugee population.
A 2002 study by North Dakota State University in Fargo estimated that a refugee family of four costs the taxpayer $21,965, just for the initial resettlement period. Although there are certain advantages to resettlement — refugees who are able to thrive in the U.S. are then able to significantly aid their cohorts who stay behind — there is no doubt that we could aid far more refugees by redirecting the dollars used on resettlement for those who stay behind in limbo. The 99% of refugees who stay behind are desperately in need of food, medicine, medical care, and protection. Only people deluded by the PR of domestic refugee resettlement agency contractors — exalted “partners” in refugee resettlement speak — who claim that resettlement is unquestionable, would not be bothered by this dilemma.
It would help if the U.S. refugee program did refugee resettlement well, but we are regularly deluged with accounts from refugees whom resettlement agencies have placed in deplorable conditions, often times in dangerous urban neighborhoods, and left to fend for themselves with little of the minimum-required help that the agencies promise to give when taking public funds. Regularly refugees must scrounge for furnishings and household items from dumpsters. Regularly resettlement agencies fail to give even used clothing, to adequately help refugees to look for jobs, or to help refugees to adequately deal with American ways, such as endless paperwork, which are foreign to them. In response to this neglect, and often times even abuse, the resettlement agencies’ friends in government regularly conspire to coverup and whitewash the offenses. This leaves many of us in the community who help refugees wondering how much of our system’s response to the world refugee issue is based on solid and wise thinking and strategy, and how much of it is just the corruption, cronyism, and egotism we regularly see in the resettlement program in our own communities.
For those groups who claim to really care for the world’s refugees it is now past the time when they need to put their money where their mouths are. Instead of depending on constant easy government money for the “charity” they take credit for, they need to start raising significant private funds for refugee assistance. They must also be honest with the American people and open their refugee programs to real public scrutiny. The U.S. Refuge Admissions Program is a public program serving the people of the United States, not a club for elite “partners”.
We also take this occasion of World Refugee Day, with 2010 marking the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, to call on Samantha Powers (Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs, National Security Council) to open up to the public the NSC’s comprehensive interagency review of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. So far there has been zero effort to include the views of anyone outside the refugee resettlement establishment, including any views considered to dissent from the standard “refugee resettlement agencies and their friends in government can do no wrong” canon. In the name of democracy and human rights we call on Dr. Powers to immediately make public all documents of the interagency task force, and open discussion of the plan for reform to all community groups, not just those government agencies and so-called refugee charities who hope to benefit from increased government funding of their programs.