Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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Many unaccompanied Central American youth traumatized

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 19, 2014

human_dignity

Many of the 30,000 (some articles say 60,000) Central American unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S illegally since last January have come with histories of trauma. Many of the children and teens have been physically or sexually abused. For example, the USCRI refugee contractor says more than 90 percent of the girls they’re dealing with have been raped. An article at NPR explores this troubling issue:

Many of the Central American children who have entered the U.S illegally in recent months have come with a heavy burden — a history of hardship and violence. And many of the children now face difficult and uncertain futures.

This has social service agencies around the country scrambling to figure out how to help the more than 30,000 unaccompanied minors who have been placed with family and friends since January, as they await their immigration hearings.

One of those nonprofits is Mary’s Center, which has been helping immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area for years. Until recently, workers at the agency saw about five to seven newly arrived children each month. Now they’re seeing that many every day, according to Maria Gomez, the group’s president and CEO.

She says many of the children have had horrific experiences, which will require serious counseling…

“So far almost every single one of the kids that we’ve gotten has been through some horrendous trauma,” she says. She adds that many of the children have been physically or sexually abused, at home or on the way to the U.S. Gomez says one 11-year-old girl they’re seeing was raped by the men her family paid to bring her to the United States. She’s now pregnant…

Other agencies say they’re seeing similar cases — children with layer upon layer of problems that will need to be dealt with soon. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit that is helping the federal government settle about 1,000 unaccompanied minors, says more than 90 percent of the girls they’re dealing with have been raped… Read more here

An article in The Buffalo News also explores this issue with refugees resettled to the US.

Posted in Guatemalan, mental health, teenagers, unaccompanied minors, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Of 3 million Syrian refugees the US has accepted just 36

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 18, 2014

refugee figuresOf the 36 million Syrian refugees fleeing the country the US has so far accepted only 36. Half of these refugees are children. Although the US has pledges to accept thousands more, sweeping counter terrorism laws along with the usual long wait of the resettlement process means the refugees wait will be protracted. With US-led airstrikes in Syria pushing more refugees over the border, there is now a heightened sense of urgency in processing Syrian refugees for resettlement here. An article in The Guardian examines the issue:

Since the start of the war in Syria in early 2011, the number of people fleeing the country has swelled to more than 3 million – half of them children. The US has accepted only a staggering few – just 36 in 2013.

Though the US has recently pledged to accept thousands more over the next few years, the resettlement process is complex and protracted. In some cases, refugees are left waiting in camps for up to three years before they are cleared to board a plane to America. This is in part due to sweeping US counter-terrorism laws that have, until recently, been ensnaring Syrians who pose no threat.

With no end in sight to the country’s brutal war, which has claimed upwards of 190,000 lives, according to the UN’s latest figures, refugee advocacy groups are calling on the US to fast-track the process for Syria’s most vulnerable and absorb a greater number of its refugees. Since the US-led coalition against Isis began conducting air strikes within Syria two weeks ago, likely pushing more refugees across borders, there is a heightened sense of urgency… Read more here

Posted in security/terrorism, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bhutanese immigrants in U.S. killing themselves at alarming rate

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 16, 2014

yellow_ribbonThe suicide rate among Nepali-Bhutanese refugees continues as a subject of concern. The suicide rate among Bhutanese here is 20.3 per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate of 12.4 per 100,000 for U.S. residents overall, and higher than the global suicide rate of 16 per 100,000. In six years, up to 55 Bhutanese immigrants have hanged themselves, using ropes or traditional scarves, with the last one occurring in Ohio in April. A former Bhutanese refugee in Portland, OR has made it his goal to support refugees from his country and reduce the number of suicides. An article in the Los Angeles Times tells more:

…In six years, up to 55 Bhutanese immigrants have hanged themselves, using ropes or traditional scarves, and [Som Subeti of Portland's Lutheran Community Services] suspects the rate might be even higher. He has hounded federal agencies such as the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to investigate the trend. He sent emails, made telephone calls, even traveled to Washington to address officials…. Due in part to Subedi’s pressure, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study that found the problem to be endemic: The suicide rate among Bhutanese here is 20.3 per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate of 12.4 per 100,000 for U.S. residents overall and higher than the global suicide rate of 16 per 100,000… He wrote a column for the Oregonian newspaper, questioning the American dream. “I am a refugee from Bhutan,” he began, describing how he once encouraged friends in the camps in Nepal to hurry to the U.S., a place he called “close to heaven.” He wrote: “Now I see those newly arrived struggling; they question me about my ‘heaven.’ Some say they would return, if possible, to their dark refugee camps rather than face their desperate situations in Oregon. I have come to feel that ‘the American dream’ is dangerous, because people come here with great expectations. I have stopped calling the camps in Nepal.” Benefits for Bhutanese stop after a few months, often before the recipients have assimilated. Subedi disagrees with the CDC conclusion that a Bhutanese predisposition to suicide was brought to the U.S. from the refugee camps. “It’s like saying, ‘It isn’t our problem,'” he said. “America is all about immigrants. The U.S. has resources other nations don’t. But there isn’t the will to help refugees here.”… His compatriots continue to take their own lives, the last one in Ohio in April… Read more here

Posted in Lutheran Community Service, mental health, Nepali Bhutanese, Oregon, ORR, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

State Department bows to pressure to rescind plan to resettle refugees in Athens

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 15, 2014

brakeThe U.S. State Department has decided to put on indefinite hold the plan this fiscal year to begin resettling refugees to Athens, Georgia after local and state government opposition. Both the mayor of Athens as well as the Governor and Georgia Human Services Commissioner have come out against the plan. Senior level officials from the State Department are planning a visit to Athens next month, apparently to try some diplomacy and to negotiate with local government officials. An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explores the case:

The U.S. State Department has shelved a plan to resettle 150 refugees in Athens following objections from Mayor Nancy Denson and Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration.

The International Rescue Committee said it got an email last week from the federal agency saying it would consider the proposal “after additional planning and community consultation.”…

“There is always hope in the future and the good news is that senior level officials from the State Department are planning a visit to Athens next month to view the area in person for future consideration,” he wrote.

“During the visit we will be clarifying with them what additional planning and consultations they are requiring, showing them firsthand why Athens has already become a preferred destination for refugees seeking a new life, and discussing a concrete plan to resubmit a proposal to establish an official resettlement site.”…

In a letter sent to the U.S. State Department in August, Georgia Human Services Commissioner Keith Horton said he did not want the refugee resettlement plan to “go forward at this time.”

“The degree of cooperation, communication and consultation is not where I would like for it to be,” Horton wrote. “It is my hope that the community of Athens/Clarke County and the IRC will continue to work together to resolve the issues and concerns that have been raised.”

Horton’s letter followed one Denson sent Deal’s administration two days before. In her letter, the Democratic mayor complained the IRC did not reach out to enough people in her community early enough about its plans. She also raised concerns that the refugees could strain public resources in Athens-Clarke County, which is home to about 120,000 residents. Denson said she wanted the IRC to delay its efforts and to “present a formal refugee integration plan” to local elected officials and others. Read more here

Posted in IRC, PRM, State Department, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Important Information about a new Scam against Refugees‏

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 14, 2014

scam_alert

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is warning about a new fraud scheme targeting refugees and other recent immigrants.  ORR urges refugees to be aware that there are several criminals seeking to take advantage of newly arrived refugees who may not realize the need to protect their personal information from thieves and other criminals.

The Bhutanese community of Minnesota reports a new variation on a common fraud scheme, with  several community members have received phone calls from people claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The callers tell the person who answers that they owe money to the IRS, and if it is not paid immediately, the IRS will freeze their bank account, sue them, and take away their citizenship or other lawful status.

So far, at least three people have been contacted, and one unfortunately sent a money order for $3,000 to these criminals.

Additional information can be found here in a Listserve message from the ORR.

a new scam

Posted in Nepali Bhutanese, ORR, scams | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Feds order review of security at all facilities holding Central American youth

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 13, 2014

fleeLast Wednesday two Guatemalan unaccompanied youth escaped from a Heartland Alliance (and here, here and here) detention center in Des Plaines, Illinois and carjacked two cars in a cross state odyssey that ended in Iowa. The suspects are part of the group of 60,000 that entered the country illegally since last January. The youth, a sixteen and a seventeen year-old, told an employee of a nursing that they were armed before stealing her car, and later carjacked a 91 year-old man at a Walmart in Moline. An article at NPR indicates that trauma plagues many of these youth. The carjacking incident is covered in articles in JournalONLINE and in the Daily Mail:

Two teenage Guatemalan refugees being housed on the campus of Maryville Academy are facing charges of vehicular hijacking after taking cars from people in Des Plaines and the Quad Cities, then leading police on a chase that ended Wednesday in Iowa, authorities said. The suspects, who are 16 and 17 years old, were due to be extradited to Cook County after being detained in an Iowa jail. They are expected to be charged as adults, authorities said. Both juveniles were being housed on Maryville’s Des Plaines campus as part of a program run by Heartland Alliance, a social service agency that contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The pair were awaiting immigration proceedings… It all began at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of Nazarethville, a nursing home at 300 N. River Road in Des Plaines, when the two suspects threatened an employee about to get into her Toyota Camry, pushed her away and drove off, officials said. The teens told the employee they were armed but did not show any weapons. The employee was not injured, according to Pat Favia, a spokeswoman with Presence Health, the nursing facility operator. Hours later, authorities say, the duo turned up in Moline, where they ordered a 91-year-old military veteran in a Walmart parking lot out of his Buick LeSabre. The man, leaving the store after picking up his prescription, was uninjured, according to Detective Scott Williams of the Moline Police Department. The suspects rammed a vehicle as they left the parking lot and headed west on Interstate 80, authorities said. Some 20 miles west of Iowa City, police set up stop sticks, which blew out the tires of the Buick… Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday…officials are contacting all other agencies who have a contract for housing refugees to ask that each shelter undertake similar security assessments… Read more here

Posted in Guatemalan, Heartland Alliance, ORR, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

German security guards caught abusing refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 7, 2014

oppressionContracted security guards at an asylee detention center in Germany have been caught abusing a refugee. A picture shows a guard standing over a handcuffed refugee and pressing his boot into the man’s neck. Other refugees at the center have made allegations of related abuse. An article at the BBC has more:

The German media have expressed outrage over one alleged incident
Police in Germany are investigating reports refugees were repeatedly abused by security guards at an asylum centre.

According to the AP news agency, police raided the centre in the western town of Burbach after a local journalist received a DVD allegedly showing guards abusing an asylum seeker.

Detectives have released a photo which they say came from one security officer’s mobile phone.
The image is said to show a guard assaulting a refugee.

In the picture, the handcuffed refugee lies on the floor while the guard stands over him pressing his boot into his neck.

Another guard stands nearby as both appear to pose for the picture, which has been widely circulated in the German press.

“It’s a photo one would associate with Guantanamo Bay,” one police officer was quoted as saying. “Both security guards are grinning.”…

Police say other people living at the centre have made complaints about abuse… Read more here

Posted in abuse, asylees | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Central American minors may be able to acquire refugee status

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 4, 2014

teensHealth and Human Services via its ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) office is releasing $9 million in leftover funds for use in legal representation of 1222 (2600 as part of a larger program) of the about 60,000 unaccompanied Central American minors who crossed the southern border since last January. The law does not need that these foreign nationals, here illegally, have legal representation. Almost half of minors with attorneys have been allowed to stay in the country, while only 10 percent of those without representation were allowed to stay, according to an analysis of cases through June by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Of the cases heard from July 18 to September 2 more than 90 percent were marked as instances where the child had no legal representation. The court cases which will decide whether the minors are to be deported or be given refugee or other legal status to stay here. A U.S. District Court Judge has put off on ruling on the core issue of whether these minor plaintiffs are entitled, under the Fifth Amendment, to counsel at government expense. An article at CBS Los Angeles explains:

SANTA ANA (AP) — The Obama administration is spending $4 million on lawyers for unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings…

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, said on Tuesday that it is the first time the office that oversees programs for unaccompanied immigrant children will provide money for direct legal representation.

The grants to two organizations are part of a bigger $9 million project that aims to provide lawyers to 2,600 children. The move comes after the number of Central American children arriving on the U.S.-Mexico border more than doubled this past year, many of them fleeing violence… Read more here

An article at Politico also explains the case and the legal issues:

The battle over legal counsel for child migrants moved on two fronts as a federal judge first weighed-in Monday and the Department of Health and Human Services next announced its own initiative Tuesday to try to assure more representation for the minors.

With the 2014 fiscal year literally hours away from ending, HHS said Tuesday it has committed $4.2 million in leftover funds to support the efforts to secure counsel for the children. Republicans in the House have blocked prior efforts by the Justice Department to use its own funds for this purpose. But HHS said it has sufficient authority to make the awards to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

HHS estimated that the funds are sufficient to provide legal representation for about 1222 children, with an initial focus on eight cities including Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix. That’s a fraction of the total number of minors in the immigration court system after the record border crossings earlier this year. But the step is significant and comes as migrant rights attorneys are trying to elevate the same issue in federal court in Seattle… Read more here

Some argue that refugee status may apply if the minors face violence back home due to their membership in a particular social group, e.g. those who will not join drug gangs. The 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as any person who:

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The United States Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as any person who is:

…outside their country of residence or nationality, or without nationality, and is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

In fact, a new White House plan would allow some Central American children to come to the United States legally with refugee status, according to an AP article. The plan would allow Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran immigrants who are legally present in the U.S. to ask for refugee status for child relatives still back at home. Also, the White House is calling for the admission of 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2015, and lists people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as eligible for admission to the U.S. as refugees “if otherwise qualified.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is initiating a program to give refugee status to some young people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in response to the influx of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under the program, immigrants from those countries who are lawfully in the United States will be able to request that child relatives still in those three countries be resettled in the United States as refugees. The program would establish in-country processing to screen the young people to determine if they qualify to join relatives in the U.S…

The program would not provide a path for minors to join relatives illegally in the United States, and would not apply to minors who have entered the country illegally.

Instead, it aims to set up an orderly alternative for dealing with young people who otherwise might embark on a dangerous journey to join their families in the United States… Read more here

Posted in asylees, court, Dept. of Justice, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, honduran, Obama administration, ORR, teenagers, unaccompanied minors, USCCB, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sexual Abuse Protections For Child Migrants Await Approval

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 28, 2014

ribbon..Proposed regulations for the protection of unaccompanied child migrants in government facilities from sexual assault await the White House’s approval. Advocates claim the delay leaves children in the facilities without key protections against sexual assault. Although the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was required by law to submit new agency regulations by September 2033, it did not bother to submit more than a draft version in January 2014. The White House has failed to explain the delay. The exact number of assaults in the system that houses unaccompanied migrant children is unknown, although a Houston Chronicle investigation found 101 “significant incident reports” filed between March 2011 and March 2013. Minor victims of abuse also usually have no easy way to report and pursue a case. The children and teenagers are often cut off from the outside, and may have no safe way to report it if they suffer abuse at the hands of a facility staff member. An article in the Huffington Post examines the issue in depth:

WASHINGTON — Proposed regulations that could better protect unaccompanied child migrants in government facilities from sexual assault remain bogged down in the White House’s approval process, despite reports in May that many instances of abuse had been inadequately investigated. Those reports have frustrated advocates who have long pushed for the new rules and see them as even more urgent given the influx of children and teenagers being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As the administration strains to handle the humanitarian crisis of nearly 63,000 unaccompanied minors caught crossing the border illegally since October, human rights advocates worry the children might remain vulnerable to abuse in the facilities where they are being kept.

While the children and teenagers are often released to family members and eventually may be deported, those from countries other than Mexico or Canada first go to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. The agency has its own internal standards in place, but it hasn’t finalized implementation of the stricter standards required under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA. That means there are fewer formalized standards to help minors who already may be vulnerable to abuse, scared to speak out and unsure to how to ask for help… Read more here

Posted in abuse, children, Dept of Homeland Security, el salvadoran, guatelmalan, honduran, Obama administration, reform, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cockroaches and mice scurry across floor where Luul Botan’s children play

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 24, 2014

slumlordFor new readers, across the US the private, yet publicly-funded, refugee resettlement agencies have in many cases placed refugees in slumlord apartments with no tools for knowing their rights or how to help themselves. This, as part of a humanitarian program. Refugees have also moved to these apartments under their own volition. Somali refugees in Columbus, Ohio have been living in some of these slumlord apartments, in this case owned/manages by Volunteers of America. It seems that (a) local resettlement agency/agencies has/have left the refugees with a poor to nonexistent understanding of their rights, while apparently turning a blind eye to the horrible problems. This is not the first case like this in recent years from Columbus.  Last year a similar case unfolded at the Summit Park apartments. The Columbus Dispatch has the latest story:

Cockroaches and mice scurry across the carpeted floor where Luul Botan’s three young children play.

The bathroom and kitchen faucets leak a steady stream of water. Some of the kitchen cabinets are broken. The drawers stick. And the front door doesn’t close easily, leaving the 32-year-old mother fearful that someone might break into their North Side apartment at night.

“The conditions are horrible, and the management at Capital Park apartments doesn’t care how bad it gets,” she said last week through a Somali interpreter.

Botan said she fears that her children, who are 5 years, 1 year and 4 months old, are being sickened by the insects and mouse droppings. She said she asked the manager five times to replace a missing screen in the living-room window of her second-floor apartment in the complex on Agler Road.

“I’m so afraid my daughter will fall out when she runs over to watch children playing outside. It’s so dangerous,” she said.

During the past several weeks, dozens of Capital Park residents have called the city of Columbus about what they say is a worsening problem. With the help of Legal Aid attorneys and other volunteers, the mostly low-income Somali refugees have also begun sending letters to the management of the 314-unit complex owned by Volunteers of America, requesting repairs that many have already asked for.

“The tenants in this case are stepping up, asking the landlord merely to do what Ohio law requires: Keep the rental property fit, habitable and up to code,” said Benjamin D. Horne, a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

Most of the residents were resettled by the federal government from refugee camps in Kenya, he said. They have little knowledge of their rights… Read more here

Posted in Columbus, housing, Slumlords, substandard housing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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