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High suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees explained

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 1, 2015

suicide-messageA recent newspaper article from Iowa finally gives the most complete explanation for the high rate of suicide among Bhutanese refugees (Lhotshampa). These refugees have the highest suicide rate in the country (including refugees and every other group in the US), with 20 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people (this blog began addressing this issue five years ago, here-1, here-2, here-3, and here-4). Now, Parangkush Subedi, a health policy analyst from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), explains that much of this goes beyond past traumatic experiences, language, isolation, the great difficulty of adjusting to a new culture, and trying to find and maintain employment. Subedi says that the Bhutanese refugees are also deeply influenced by their culture. They believe they must also fight evil spirits, satisfy the lurking souls of the ancestors, and contend with ancient Hindu or Buddhist beliefs about fate — preordained karma. This belief tells them that their problems are a form of punishment; creating a heavy burden of guilt and hopelessness. All these factors combined lead to a large percentage of this refugee group having undiagnosed mental illnesses, chiefly severe depression. To address this issue Subedi urges Bhutanese refugee community members to set aside the stigma, talk about it and ask for help from a doctor, refugee coordinator, teacher or suicide hotline. Subedi asks that the larger Bhutanese refugee community increase its outreach to community members, and that community members listen without judging. He also recommends music, yoga, dance activities, and most importantly, sharing stories of hope so refugees who are struggling are aware that others in their position have succeeded. The article is found in the Des Moines Register:

Sorrow can feel overwhelming if you’ve lost someone, can’t find a job or pay your bills. But imagine also being uprooted from all that’s familiar, not speaking the language or understanding the customs, and being home-bound. Then, to round out the challenges, you have to fight evil spirits, satisfy the lurking souls of the ancestors, and contend with preordained karma…

…the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in 2007 began relocating [Bhutanese refugees] on a permanent basis. America has taken in 75,000 Bhutanese refugees since then. But with 20 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people,they have the highest suicide rate in the country.

So suicide prevention commanded center stage at a national gathering in West Des Moines over the weekend of the Association of Bhutanese in America. A health policy analyst from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) urged community members to set aside the stigma, talk about it and ask for help.

More than one in five Bhutanese refugees nationwide is depressed, but according to Parangkush Subedi of ORR, they may not know what that means. Some develop physical symptoms, like panic attacks, stress or gastrointestinal disorders. But many are [also] deeply influenced by ancient Hindu or Buddhist beliefs about fate, and think that if they can’t find a job or make the rent, it’s a form of punishment. Add in traumatic life circumstances and, Subedi told the gathering in Nepali, “They feel they have no alternative to suicide.”…

Depression is the most common mental illness in America, affecting more than one in four adults. Certain triggering factors like job loss or family conflict can bring it on in most of us. And people of any background may abuse substances in response. But refugees have also been separated from the extended family networks they leaned on, and from their places of worship. Less able to navigate society than even their school-age children, parents see their roles shifting from heads of household to burdens. They feel shame and stigma. Their children, increasingly integrated into this new society, start to pull away. Other refugee populations have had similar experiences, but Subedi said the Bhutanese are particularly emotional, and many experienced trauma in the refugee camps. Those who suffered gender-based violence are especially vulnerable…

…in the end we’re all looking for the same basic things: Meaning, connectedness, a way to express ourselves. Forging community may be the best antidote to sorrow… Read more here

Posted in community/cultural orientation, cultural adjustment, employment/jobs for refugees, language, mental health, Nepali Bhutanese, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Capital campaigns in refugee resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 16, 2015

headquarters-3Whenever it comes to capital campaigns for new headquarters, refugee resettlement contractors (non-profit businesses) often excel at raising millions of dollars (see examples here and here and here). Conversely, ask resettlement agencies to give their refugee clients basic services and material items and they are quick to say that resources are limited and that they don’t get enough funding from the federal government. A case in point is Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND). According to recent media reports the agency recently moved into its new $5 million headquarters, which houses many of its community service programs, including refugee resettlement. In the ten years during which I monitored this agency, however, refugee clients often went without basic clothing items, including winter boots and coats — in Fargo of all places (not exactly a warm climate). LSSND often gave refugees damaged, dirty and broken donated housing items and furnishings. Refugees were pushed into any jobs offered, no matter how inappropriate and even dangerous due to the person’s health condition or lack of English skills, due to limited resources for helping refugees become economically self-sufficient. A LSSND middle-age Sudanese refugee client who had helped birth over 10,000 infants in Africa was required to take a job at a storage tank manufacturing company, despite his protestations that he was not strong enough. He was then injured, involving an apparent hernia, while doing lifting. Now, $5 million later, however, LSSND agency employees at the new headquarters are basking under “large windows that fill the interior with natural light”, illuminating “the new structure’s fine art décor.” LSSND’s CEO Jessica Thomasson says these amenities are not just for clients’ “sense of pride”, but for the benefit of employees (maybe that’s the other way around). My idea, however, is that instead of resettlement agencies raising millions for capital improvements, they have campaigns to raise millions for basic services for refugees, and begin funding needs before wants.

Thomasson also prides LSSND’s “great” relationships with area employers, allowing refugees can find quick employment. Yet, that also includes quick termination, and from jobs paying scarcely more than the federal minimum wage. I had the opportunity two years ago to sit down with the owner and a vice president of one of the main companies LSSND works with; a wire harness manufacturer. The two men made it clear to me that they terminate refugees quickly when there is any under-performance. In fact, they were looking to hire a supervisor whose job would mainly be to fire people; essentially someone who did not need to have supervisory skills — working with employees to resolve problems.

An article in the Fargo Forum announces LSSND’s new headquarters grand opening:

FARGO – Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s new headquarters building is a beauty. Large windows fill the interior with natural light and there are many spaces, big and small, where folks can gather and talk, either in a large-meeting setting, or one on one.

As you enter the building, there’s not one waiting room but two, and there are large photos on the walls showing people with warm smiles.

The portraits, which include images of past clients as well as volunteers and staff, are a feature of LSS offices across the state and are intended to put visitors at ease, said Kristi Becker Ulrich, director of communications and development at LSS.

That aim is bolstered by the new structure’s fine art decor and overall feel, she said.

“I think there’s a sense of pride when they (clients) come to a building like this,” said Ulrich, who along with other staff moved into the new structure at 3911 20th Ave. S. in March…

The work cost about $5 million, which came from private donations.

A sculpture in the lobby pays tribute to that generosity with a display of the names of donors inscribed on medallions. The size of the medallions varies and is commensurate with the size of a given donation.

“We had one donor who donated more than $500,000 to our capital campaign, so she has a dove,” Ulrich said…
One area where the agency plays a major role is in resettling refugees, a service it started offering at the end of World War II.

“We’re really a conduit for that resettlement work to happen,” said Jessica Thomasson, LSS of North Dakota CEO.

 said the agency is only able to do such work because of the many connections it has built with others, including schools and employers.

“We have a great relationship with a lot of employers,” Thomasson said, which allows many new Americans to find work quickly.

“I think employers are both supportive (of resettlement efforts), but also grateful for the opportunity to have access to a very hard-working workforce,” Thomasson said while acknowledging that some in the community don’t always view newcomers favorably… Read more here

Posted in employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, lavish new offices | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Tucson face underemployment, prejudice and racism from the community

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 1, 2015


A recent newspaper article explores the plight of refugees placed for resettlement in Tucson, Arizona. It seems that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is placing refugee professionals such as mechanical engineers and doctors in entry-level jobs such as dish washing. While I don’t wish to be cynical I do wish to have some healthy skepticism here. Are there really no jobs in Tucson, even lower level ones, in which employers are looking for people with engineering or medical knowledge? It seems that the IRC has grown accustomed to using the least effort in placing refugees in jobs, without taking advantage of other options. The state of Idaho created a program to help these refugees, and help Idaho, rather than waste these professionals’ knowledge and experience. The article also discusses a case in which a refugee man was riding his bike home from work at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up. The IRC relocated him from his home for fear of persecution. An article in The Arizona Daily Wildcat explains:

…Caitlin Reinhard, senior employment specialist for the International Rescue Committee, in Tucson [spoke] about the issues refugees face in the community. Regardless of professional and educational background, the first job that many refugees obtain are minimum wage, entry-level jobs. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a mechanical engineer to be placed in Tucson and work as a dishwasher.

Reinhard emphasized the reluctance of employers to hire overqualified employees. For example, a refugee who was a doctor in their home country would have more trouble finding employment than a refugee with a grade-school level of education…

In conjunction with employment issues…Tucson refugees face prejudice and racism from the community in which they are working to become members. Reinhard spoke of a client who worked the night shift at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Golf Resort and Spa. On his way home from work, the man rode his bike to the intersection of Alvernon Way and Grant Road at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up.

We were more outraged than he was,” Reinhard said.

The  man was relocated from his home for fear of persecution. He did not harbor negative feelings toward Americans. However, because of our cultural biases, our community threatened his safety… Read more here

Posted in abuse, Arizona, employment/jobs for refugees, hate crimes, IRC, professionals, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resources for Helping Low-Income, Low-Skilled Workers

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 7, 2015

employment _assistanceThere are some online resources that look useful for helping refugees with employment issues, poverty and education. The Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP) features different resources aimed at improving services to low-income youth and adults:

In July 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress—was signed into law by President Obama. WIOA is the first update to the nation’s core workforce training programs  since the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) 16 years ago. But a lot has changed since 1998—and our workforce system hasn’t kept up. Low-income, lower-skilled workers face more barriers than ever to securing an education and getting a good job.

CLASP features different resources aimed at improving services to low-income youth and adults under the WIOA. In addition, they highlight promising state and local strategies and models that align WIOA’s goals and help create pathways to postsecondary and economic success for low-skilled workers, youth, and adults… (Read more here)

Posted in economic self-sufficiency, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, teenagers | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Springfield, MA struggling

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 27, 2014


While the Mayor of Springfield continues to scapegoat refugees for perceived political gain a leader of a local refugee resettlement group is using the defense that the city is struggling with, “a weak economy, high unemployment, crime, proverty [sic], inadequate housing, and low high school graduation rates.” Of course that raises the question about whether the city is a proper destination for refugees in the US resettlement program.  An article in The Republican continues a series of articles covering the issue:

SPRINGFIELD – An organization that resettles refugees in Western Massachusetts said Monday the program should not serve as “a scapegoat” for city problems, as Mayor Domenic J. Sarno has renewed a request for a moratorium on new refugees in Springfield.

Jodie Justofin, a spokeswoman for Lutheran Social Services, said Monday that Sarno’s concerns about the resettlement of refugees in Springfield, including his claim that it poses a hardship on city services, was already addressed in a letter from the agency’s president Angela Bovill, in August.

“As you’ll note, Angela put this political issue in the context of the many challenges facing Springfield,” Justofin said. “In a city of 150,000 residents, the relatively small number of refugees (about 1 percent of the population) residing in Springfield should not be made a scapegoat for the city’s problems. Many of these refugees are contributing members of society, working, paying taxes and enriching the community.”…

At that time, Bovill said in part: “I trust you don’t mean to imply that in a city with a population of more than 150,000, Springfield’s longstanding struggle with a weak economy, high unemployment, crime, proverty [sic], inadequate housing, and low high school graduation rates are a direct result of the 250-300 refugees resettling to the City annually,”… Read more here

Posted in crime, employment/jobs for refugees, housing, Jewish Family Service of Western Masachusetts, moratorium / restriction / reduction, schools, Somali Bantu, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee woman lost seven fingers in meat-packing accidents, not understanding safety training

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 23, 2014


Iowa’s 6000 refugees from Myanmar are struggling on. The U.S. Refugee resettlement program still hasn’t figured out how to adequately assist refugees who move from their original resettlement location to other geographical locations for jobs or to be near family (secondary migration). This, even though large numbers of refugees have relocated in search of jobs since the 2008 economic recession. As a result, refugees have committed suicide, parents have lost custody of their children, children have died and refugees have been horribly maimed in meat-packing plant jobs – all due to the lack of support and assistance. An article in the Des Moines Register explains the situation in Iowa:

On the Monday after standard time went into effect, Lee Mo’s children missed school. The Burmese refugee family knew the American ritual of moving clocks forward and back, but they didn’t know on which dates that happened, so the school bus left without them.

Even if she had known the date, Mo couldn’t read a calendar. For much of her five years here, she has had to estimate time based on the position of the sun. She doesn’t know her age. She can’t make a phone call. Like about half of the people in Iowa who speak her native Karenni, she can’t read in any language…

Since 2006, refugees from Burma have been turning up in Iowa, becoming its largest incoming refugee group.

There are an estimated 6,000 refugees from Burma who are here…

It’s not just the inability of parents to communicate with teachers, or pick kids up or help them study. It’s someone being prematurely cut off food stamps because the paperwork wasn’t done due to language barriers. It’s the child who missed two years of schooling because the mother didn’t know to enroll her. The man who couldn’t read his eviction notice until a week before he had to move with the 14 people sharing his one-bedroom apartment. It’s the untouched FIP benefits debit card loaded with $900 that someone didn’t know what to do with, even as she fell behind on rent.

“We have people getting surgery, but they don’t know what surgery they’re getting,” said Ohr. One woman lost seven fingers in meat-packing accidents, not understanding the safety training. A newborn died after being kept waiting in the emergency room. People have lost parental rights for lack of “cultural awareness” or an attorney who spoke their language.

“It’s a crushing of the spirit,” said Ohr.

In 2012, just a year after their families moved to Iowa, three Karenni-speaking children drowned in the Iowa River at Marshalltown. The mother of two was so distraught she tried to jump out of her apartment window.

Mo’s sister was in the hospital recently recovering from a suicide attempt. Alone, depressed and unable to find work, she stabbed herself in the stomach with a knife. Depression is widespread…

Paw Moo Htoo has been in America seven months with her husband and six children… She is withdrawn and expressionless.

“I don’t know how to go to the store, to doctor’s appointments, to my children’s school,” she said through an interpreter. She can watch TV only if one of her kids turns it on. “I struggle with so much…because of the language barriers, I can’t communicate with anyone.”

Htoo says her case worker only showed her how to turn on the lights and oven, but said nothing about enrolling her kids in school. So at first, they didn’t go. Money is tight. Her husband earns $1,200 a month at a Marshalltown meat-packing job, working 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. He pays $160 to be in a carpool and $740 for the 3-bedroom apartment they are required to have. And they’re paying $290 a month to reimburse the cost of their $8,000 airfare here… Read more here


Posted in Burma/Myanmar, children, drowning, Iowa, Marshalltown, meatpacking industry, mental health, neglect, secondary migration, refugee, taken away from refugee parents | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Waterloo refugee resettlement office not to close as said

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 16, 2014


The USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants) has announced that its local refugee resettlement office will not close after all when its federal grant runs out. The leadership has instead chosen to keep the office open on a part-time basis. About 1,200 Burmese refugees – attracted to the area by meatpacking jobs – who now make Waterloo their home will have ongoing assistance with interpretation/translation, tax preparation and other needs. An article at KCRG explains:

WATERLOO, Iowa – …

…On Wednesday night, volunteers worked with a handful of newer residents in Waterloo who have escaped persecution in Myanmar… At least 1,200 Burmese refugees now call Waterloo home…

In late February, [Ann Grove, lead case manager of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants office in Waterloo] said the federal funding for the USCRI office to help Burmese refugees in Black Hawk County was running out. Yet, on Tuesday, the office announced the USCRI’s leadership has chosen to keep the office open on a part-time basis.

“It gives us an opportunity to continue providing for the immediate needs of clients who are in town,” said Grove.

With the federal grant now expired, the office may have to depend on the continued involvement of volunteers… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, funding, meatpacking industry, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refuge placements to Amarillo restricted

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 23, 2014


Last fall the State Department restricted new refugee placements to Amarillo in fiscal year 2014 to family reunion cases after local government agencies reported being overloaded with newly resettled refugees and secondary migrants coming from other resettlement sites. Congressman Mac Thornberry brought State Department refugee resettlement office officials to Amarillo to meet with community leaders. Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle and Refugee Services of Texas are the local area resettlement agencies. They were asked three years ago to cut the number of resettled refugees (but apparently did not do so). Local government agencies complained that the schools were unable to handle the load of new refugee children and that the City’s 911 emergency phone system was struggling to deal with the many languages spoken. Refugees – largely from Myanmar (Burma), but also from Iraq and Iran – have been migrating to the city for the $14/hour meatpacking plant jobs, as well as to live near relatives. That “secondary migration” apparently continues, with the State Department only being able to cut the number of directly resettled refugees. An article in the Texas Tribune covers the story:

More international refugees were resettled in Texas in 2012 than in any other state, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. And one of the leading destinations is Amarillo, where members of Mr. Thawng’s church and other newcomers from places like Myanmar and Iraq often work in meatpacking plants.

Now local officials are worried that Amarillo’s refugee population is straining the city’s ability to respond to 911 callers who speak numerous languages and to help children learn English and adapt to a new culture.

We’ve raised some red flags and said this isn’t good for some entities in the city or for the refugees themselves,” said Mayor Paul Harpole.

Amarillo, the state’s 14th largest city, with 195,000 residents, receives a higher ratio of new refugees to the existing population than any other Texas city, according to 2007-12 State Department data from Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Clarendon. And the only Texas cities that receive a larger number of refugees than Amarillo (which received 480 in 2012) are also the state’s largest: Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

But those numbers show only a refugee’s initial placement and do not account for secondary migration, Mr. Thornberry said. Many refugees who initially settle elsewhere relocate to Amarillo for jobs or to join family members.

The State Department decides how many refugees are resettled in an area, and states review those recommendations. Last fall, the department, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and refugee placement organizations agreed that for 2014, placements in Amarillo should be limited to family reunifications, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the commission, said.

We cannot keep going at the rate we’ve been going,” Mr. Thornberry said… Read more here

An article at FOX KAMR has more:

…Over the last five calendar years, more than 2,700 refugees have resettled in Amarillo.  That represents roughly 1.3% of our current population…

Right now, the bulk of refugees coming to Amarillo are from Burma, followed by Iraq and Iran.

Refugees will always be welcome but, right now, the numbers are growing too quickly. Putting too many in one place and putting too much burden on the schools system or the police or fire, is not healthy for refugees or us.” Mayor Paul Hapole said.

There are two organizations that help refugees in the resettlement process:  Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle and Refugee Services of Texas.

They were both asked three years ago to reduce the number of refugees brought to Amarillo.  But, original resettlements are not the main problem.

Nancy Koons, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle said.  “In addition to that we see a lot of secondary refugees that settle in other cities then choose to move to Amarillo because they have family here, they like the weather or they know that there’s employment.”

Despite the efforts to reduce the number of refugees brought into Amarillo, the population is still growing too fast.  That’s why congressman Mac Thornberry brought the state department to Amarillo to meet with community leaders.

“One of the things I hope we can accomplish is helping the state department understand that we’re not just dealing with the people they bring to Amarillo.  But, it’s the relatives and the secondary migration that we’re also dealing with and they’ve also got to take that into account.”  Thornberry said… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Burma/Myanmar, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, Catholic Family Service, children, Iranian, Iraqi, meatpacking industry, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Office of Admissions, refugee, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Federal funding dries up for Waterloo resettlement office

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 7, 2014

dreis up

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) having made a late arrival to Waterloo, Iowa to serve thousands of secondary migrant refugees (refugees who first resettled elsewhere and then relocated to Waterloo for jobs) is now pulling out. The ORR funded a branch office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to offer services to the refugees since late 2012. Now, the group is arranging for volunteer groups and people to supposedly take over in its place and offer refugee services. Finding between $100,000 and $140,000 each year to fund these efforts is the biggest hurdle. An article in The Republic carries the story originally reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier:

WATERLOO, Iowa — A federal agency is ending services to Burmese refugees in Waterloo, leaving volunteers scrambling to figure out how they can continue to help the immigrants.

The local office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which opened in December 2012, will close on Feb. 28 when federal funding runs out, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported ( ). It has been helping Burmese refugees, especially those in their few first years in the country, learn English and understand what community services are available. That includes preparing for citizenship.

The office always intended to be a temporary presence in Waterloo, where about 1,200 Burmese refugees currently reside. To date, it has helped about 200 refugees…

[Ann Grove, lead case worker] said finding ways to fund these efforts among the groups may be the biggest hurdle. It will take about $100,000 a year to replicate most services provided by the federal office, she said… “…If we’re looking at increasing the amount of interpretation to our desired level, we’re probably talking closer to $140,000.”

…[the] plan [is] to focus on case work, community education, employment and language. Read more here


Posted in Burma/Myanmar, funding, meatpacking industry, ORR, poultry production, secondary migration, refugee, USCRI, Waterloo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees abused at Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 15, 2014


A gentleman who contacted us back in April (history is here and here) about conditions for refugees resettled via Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville contacted us again recently to give an update and more information.

He said there have been at least five injuries of refugees at the factories where they were placed by the temporary employment agencies that Bridge uses to get refugees employed.

One refugee reportedly injured his shoulder at work and Bridge would not do anything to help. An Ethiopian refugee broke his hand at Quality Bakery Products. African refugees were also injured at Ifco Systems pallets division in Knoxville. Again, the agency would not help. Another refugee injured his lungs, inhaling a chemical at a Cooper Standard factory (production of plastic automobile bumper parts). Yet another refugee passed out at that factory, also due to the chemicals. He now coughs a lot and has respiratory problems. A third refugee who worked at the factory developed a rash on his body, which may have been due to the chemicals used there. Yet another refugee, an older Iraqi gentleman, severely injured his shoulder pushing a heavy cart at the Goodwill warehouse on Middlebrook Pike. The cart came back at him and he put his arms out to stop it. He needed surgery to repair the shoulder and was off work for months. He said Goodwill treated him well so he decided not to sue. At Custom Food Inc. exposure to spices caused sinus problems for an Ethiopian refugee who has allergies. He requested to switch jobs but Bridge’s employment coordinator refused to help him. Finally, at Propak Logistics’ pallets repair section many Iraqi refugees reported injuries for years to Bridge’s employment coordinator but the coordinator ignored their complaints and sided with the company against the refugees.

Bridge has arranged work via Express Employment (and Adico), for whom the refugees work. Many refugees sign papers not knowing what they are signing; some do not read English. Under this arrangement with Express a factory pays $9 per hour but refugees only get a bit more than $7 per hour. The work is unstable, with refugees working a week and then being off a week.

A former case manager also sent us information about the agency and pointed out that the refugee employment figures are dishonest as most of the refuges have only temporary employment that does not help them to pay rent and be self-sufficient. The nature of the temp jobs also means that the refugees will be unemployed just a short time after the agency reports them employed to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at 90 days and 180 days. (This, however, is a problem throughout the refugee program, and it doesn’t seem that the the ORR has much of an interest in requiring that resettlement agencies report if refugees are working at temporary or non-temporary jobs.)

Many of the interpreters quit in 2012 and 2013 after the agency’s officer manager lowered their pay from $10 per hour to $8, and since that time the agency has picked the refugees up at the airport upon their arrival without interpreters for refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and Africa. The agency then takes the refugees to their apartments and gives flawed home safety orientation involving just pointing to things and turning things on and off in an attempt to show them how things work. It then takes weeks before they find an interpreter. When the case manager voiced his concerns about this to the office manager she responded that it was case managers’ responsibility to bring an interpreter. He asked her how he could use one that is not contracted. She said they would look into but that it was his responsibility to get one and that it was okay to have a volunteer interpreter.

These refugees don’t receive proper attention because nobody can communicate with them. The African refugees compared services the agency was giving them to other refugees and realized they were receiving fewer services and less attention in all areas. As a result, when the African refugees started their own organization to help their own community they refused to work with Bridge.

The case manager points out that the Bridge office in Chattanooga is more organized than the office in Knoxville due to the qualifications, dedication and experience of the office coordinator in Chattanooga. She comes in everyday at 8:30 am and leaves at 4:30 pm unlike the one in Knoxville who comes in at 9am or 10am and sneaks out around 2pm-3pm yet submits weekly time sheets indicating 40 hours of work. The agency lists the working hours on the door as 8:30am to 4:30pm, yet if refugees and others come in at 8:30am the only people they find are the financial manager and the case managers. If the case managers are not there the office stays closed until 9:30am.

The  Knoxville office manager also wastes staff time with pointless staff meetings early on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Friday they have two staff meetings; one for the Executive Director with meeting agendas that contain her personal events such as her son’s birthday and her marriage anniversary, and a second meeting with the office manager. The meetings consume most of the day until 2pm, at which time the Director and the office manager leave the office to go home while the rest of the staff stay to finish their paperwork, as Friday is supposed to be a day for that and not for meetings.

The case manager tried many times to tell the administration that their everyday meetings are just a barrier that prevents them from doing their jobs but the office manager insisted on enforcing these meetings. He said she has no management skills and is only in the office manager position because the Director of Bridge is her close friend. The office manager also told the staff that no one is allowed to communicate with the agency’s board of directors, EMM and CWS (Bridge’s national affiliates), or TOR (Tennessee Office for Refugees); this to prevent any leaks of information to those organizations.  He said anyone who dares to violate that rule knows they may face retaliation and lose their job.

He also reports that Bridge is placing refugees in apartments in a bad downtown neighborhood with a lot buying, selling and use of street drugs. The apartments have carpeting that smells bad, broken plumbing, and heavy insect infestations.

Transportation of refugees was yet another area of violation by the agency. A van donated in 2011 used to transport refugees had mechanical problems in the steering wheel as well as no air-conditioning. The case manager told the managers that the vehicle was not safe to use but it was clear to him that money in the budget for their salaries (the director and the office manager who do not even work the full-time they are supposed to work) was more important than refugee safety issues. The heat inside the vehicle was so unbearable in the summer months that a staff member was overcome by the heat and had to be taken to the ER by ambulance. The agency only stopped using the van and sold it to the junkyard when the major mechanical problem in the steering wheel prevented it from being driven.

He pointed to another serious problem – that the agency did not have a shredder for years until recently in 2013. He used his own shredder that he brought from home. He says that every-time he spoke to the current administrators to give the staff a shredder they ignored him just as the previous executive director did when he told her a case manager who quit in 2010 threw boxes filled with confidential papers in the trash. She wasn’t concerned so he and another staff member dived in the dumpster to recover those boxes. The current administrators also do not care if staff use their own equipment to get the job done, such as their own laptops and other devices needed – a violation of HIPAA policy (privacy law). The agency is also violating the HIPAA policy by having unauthorized people being involved with refugee clients’ personal medical information, e.g. the office manager talks about the clients’ medical issues in front of her husband who often comes to the office.

The agency is run so poorly by the current administration, and with a lack of supervision from the board of directors, that the most highly qualified and decorated case workers have quit the agency since 2010 – in 2010 three case workers quit; in 2011 two quit; and three in 2013. In early 2013 the only two case managers left quit in the same month due to the hopeless situation with the management.

By the way, the most recent State Department monitoring report for this agency seems to have occurred back in 2006 — at least that is the most recent one that the State Department has released to us. The agency had a different director and case managers at that time.

Posted in abuse, Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, Burma/Myanmar, Burundian, community/cultural orientation, cultural/community orientation, post arrival, dangerous neighborhoods, employment abuses, employment/jobs for refugees, Ethiopian, home safety orientation, housing, housing, substandard, Iraqi, Knoxsville, language, language interpretation/translation, lack of, rats and roaches, transportation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »


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