Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Comment submitted for today’s State Department hearing on size & scope of refugee program

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 1, 2012

Below is a comment that a regular reader of this blog submitted for today’s State Department public hearing on the size and scope of the refugee program for fiscal year 2013:

I am a private citizen refugee advocate who has been assisting refugees with resettlement issues for the past three years. My comments are based on my experience helping refugees after they arrive in the United States with two exceptions: (1) It shouldn’t be as hard as it appears to be logistically for refugees to go through the process to enter the U.S. . By that I mean, not that each individual shouldn’t be scrutinized in detail, but that the process should entail the least travel through dangerous areas in their home countries, the fewest return trips to an application center, the most feedback about application status, the fewest repeat requests for information, and the speediest answer about whether refugee status will be granted. (2) The travel loan program should be converted to a travel grant program. There seems to be some sort of philosophy that it is citizen-building to saddle a refugee with debt as his/her first exposure to life in the United States. I disagree…It is regularly and repeatedly emphasized to them that failure to repay the travel loan can jeopardize their ability to get U.S. citizenship because of an adverse credit report – yet they are all too often given no information about how to seek forgiveness of a loan many of them will likely never be able to repay in time because of their personal situations. Furthermore, I think having the resettlement agencies act as collection agents for these loans is a significant conflict of interest…

My remaining comments concern my experience during the course of my activities as a refugee advocate…Resettlement agency failures to meet contracted responsibilities are not isolated incidences but are regular, daily occurrences on a widespread basis. I believe these failures occur not because of lack of resources, although that is surely true in some cases, but primarily because of a lack of leadership. Leadership in the local affiliates, leadership in the national offices of resettlement agencies, and leadership in the Domestic Resettlement Section. The failure of leadership that talks to each other more than to refugees. Leadership that cares more about what Washington thinks than what refugees think…I have encountered exactly two offices serving refugees in which a human actually answered the telephone; my experience instead has been full of voice mail not returned and even voice mail boxes completely full – this by agencies who are serving people who may not even have used a telephone before coming to the U.S. Leadership, such as that at World Relief, who cares more about its employees’ religious qualifications than their actual competence. Leadership that does not put enough of its own cash into a resettlement program but instead phonies up the value of its match (the value of which, I believe, is rarely, if ever, audited…English language instruction, crucial, of course, for new arrivals, is regularly inadequate and irrelevant to what a new arrival needs. Referrals for mental health services are regularly inadequate or nonexistent. Housing placements are regularly in dangerous neighborhoods and/or too expensive for the refugee to sustain after financial support stops. Too often refugees are completely abandoned after the initial six months placement…Too often the minimum contractually-required services are not adequately provided or not provided at all. Too often refugees become homeless…There are few people in responsible positions who have the personal and professional competence to install effective programs, who care whether their subcontractors perform well, who care whether their employees serve their clients well, who blame themselves and not their clients when things are not working well…

Particularly disappointing is the leadership of the Domestic Resettlement Section who appears to be more apologist for and defender of resettlement agencies and their local affiliates no matter what rather than the overseers and refugee advocates they should be. Complaints go unanswered; or, if answered, are answered with the condescension of a parent who knows best and must be trusted to do the right thing. Investigation may be promised but one never knows whether it happens and what the result is because that would be a violation of confidentiality. All I know is that what I complained about did not appear to change…Program audits are too infrequent and do not appear to include audits of financial responsibility…Particularly disappointing is that the Domestic Resettlement Section seems to think all is well and nothing needs to change – at least nothing they care to share with the public…

Here is a link to a documentary about refugees in Buffalo, N.Y. I think you’ll find their indomitable spirits despite all that has happened to them is most inspiring. I also recommend the press kit that is posted on the web site for an insight as to how resettlement agencies in Buffalo inspired the making of this film. Read full letter here

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2 Responses to “Comment submitted for today’s State Department hearing on size & scope of refugee program”

  1. The leadership issue never seems to come in discussions anywhere, though it is so important. Thanks for helping us focus on long neglected central issues

  2. Ahmad Bashir said

    I am an afghan SIV applicant and I am facing countinously security threat every day . As the insurgent kills one of interpreter named naim on Tuesday April 2014. The victim interpreter and I were working in the same office his case was ready to submit. As for as I am concern I had my interview on Aug 2013 and my case is still under administrative process my question is if I killed by insurgent will my wife and kids can get visa.

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