Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Refugees in Rochester, NY still under attack

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 4, 2014


It’s now been almost two years since this blog reported on attacks occurring on refugees in Rochester, NY.  The US refugee program has not solved the problem and continues to resettle refugees to this known dangerous site.  The State Department’s resettlement office has made clear that it does not consider crime rates when deciding where to resettle this vulnerable group (refugees).  In 2012 Burmese refugees were under attack in the neighborhoods where the refugee program resettled them, and someone shot to death a Sudanese refugee.  Last month an article reported that Nepali-Bhutanese refugees were under repeated attack as well.  Another article in the Democrat & Chronicle documents the latest incidents:

Locked inside their house in northwest Rochester, the Nepalese family felt under siege.

Outside, a crowd of young men — 20 to 25 in number — broke windows to the home and threatened to storm inside, according to members of the family. Moments before, several young men had followed and jumped a Nepalese teen. That scuffle then escalated into the menacing gang…

It wasn’t until the police came that the crowd scattered. This incident, in daylight hours Thursday, is another in a growing list of attacks against South Asian refugee families who have been settled in areas of northwest Rochester near Jones Square…
As law enforcement officials decide how to curb the intimidation and violence, the refugees themselves say they feel ignored and left to fend for themselves…

Many of the refugees are hesitant to talk to police, and, when they do, they have not been able to provide much information about their attackers. Typically, the offenders have been young African-American men, creating a volatile situation in which the refugees feel at risk in the very neighborhoods where they have been resettled…

If deemed a “hate crime” — namely if evidence exists that the refugees are targeted because of their nationality and not simply because they may be seen as vulnerable — then there could be grounds for federal prosecutions…

Bill Wischmeyer, an advocate for the refugee community, said there were two other attacks on refugees this week, one on children playing soccer. Wischmeyer has been regularly contacting police, hoping to head off future violence.

Some of the refugees see the constant harassment as the opening salvos in a battle. Their supporters, meanwhile, try to assure them that the police will find means to protect them and help them find safety in their new home.

Wischmeyer came to the Parkway home on Thursday afternoon after the gang had left.

“I came over and it looked like a war zone,” he said. Read more here

Posted in abuse, crime, dangerous neighborhoods, elderly refugees, gangs, hate crimes, Nepali Bhutanese, Office of Admissions, police, Rochester, State Department, teenagers, teens | 2 Comments »

ORR to divert $94 mil from the refugee resettlement fund to aid influx of migrant children

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 2, 2014


To deal with the unprecedented influx of migrant children crossing the border illegally from Central America the ORR (Office for Refugee Resettlement) is transferring nearly $94 million from the refugee resettlement fund to the Unaccompanied Alien Children program. The transfer will result in a reduction in services to refugees being resettled to the US, including services such as English language learning, career development and housing placement. An article in NPR in Louisville covers the issue:

An increase of undocumented children coming into America is expected to reduce the funding for services available to displaced people living in Kentucky and across the U.S.

Kentucky Office for Refugees officials expect to see a $2.28 million cut in federal funding to provide refugees in Kentucky with services such as English language learning, career development and housing placement.

The reduction in funding stems from an influx of children coming to the U.S. to escape violence and economic struggle in Central America, refugee services officials said.  To better serve these children, the Office for Refugee Resettlement is transferring nearly $94 million to the Unaccompanied Alien Children program.  The $2.28 million Kentucky officials expect to lose is a part of the $94 million transfer.

Because of the cuts, thousands of newly arrived refugees would receive a limited amount of…services… Read more here

Posted in children, funding, Kentucky, Louisville, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Apartment house fire in New Bern, N.C.

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 30, 2014


There been another apartment house fire, this time in New Bern, North Carolina.  Children playing with a lighter started the fire.  The fire displaced about 30 refugees from Myanmar — placed in the apartments by Interfaith Refugee Ministry.  The fire damaged 8 apartments occupied by the refugees, who lost everything. The story is found at WNCT CBS Channel 9.

NEW BERN, N.C. – Several fire departments battled a fire at Coopers Landing apartments on Simmons Street in New Bern Wednesday morning.

Colleen Roberts, public information officer with New Bern, says investigators site children playing with a lighter as the cause.

About 30 people have been displaced.

The fire affected units occupied by Burmese refugees who were placed there by the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, who helps refugees coming to the country get a fresh start…

The fire damaged 8 apartments…  Read more here


Posted in apartment building fires, Burma/Myanmar, children, housing, Interfaith Refugee Ministry, North Carolina | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resettlement services for asylees

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 28, 2014


A comment (see below) left under our link for the State Department’s Operational Guidance contract document for refugee resettlement agencies gives us a look at the IRC Phoenix office. They placed an asylee in an apartment with a non-working air conditioning in 100 degree heat and the case worker would do nothing to assist with the problem.

As it turns out asylees are not eligible for the State Department services that are associated with initial refugee resettlement program found in contract documents such as the Operational Guidance. Asylees are, however, eligible for programs funded by the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement). They may get up to five years of certain services including employment, immigration and case management services, and subsidized mental health services, and may also be eligible for other federal or state funded programs and services.

The writer indicates that the asylee is in the Matching Grant Program. Extra items such as cell phone service may be purchased with the $200 per month cash assitance. See Matching Grant info below:

Is the Matching Grant Program all its cracked up to be?

FY2014 Matching Grant Guidelines

pjslife said

June 23, 2014 at 2:02 am

Thanks for this information; it is not easy to find. I am friends with someone that was granted asylum 3-4 weeks ago and is receiving ‘resettlement’ services from a VOLAG. I haven’t been able to find out if he is entitled to the same services as refugees or if his are different because he came here as an asylum seeker. He was placed in a studio apartment with non-working air conditioning in 100 degree heat. After one week of me supporting him talking to his caseworker, I went with him to the leasing office and we were able to move him that day. He was given a twin bed with no sheets. No other furniture or lamps. He had some kitchen items but not much. I don’t think he’s received any clothing from them. He kept asking his caseworker about furniture for his apartment and was told he “might” get a table and chairs. We provided him with sheets, a nightstand, 2 lamps, a can opener, and 2 pieces of wall art. He was told he can’t receive cell phone assistance because he is in the “Match Grant” program. He has not been able to find out exactly what services he should be receiving, or what items they are required to give him. If it hadn’t been for me, he’d be sleeping on a bare mattress in a hot, dark apartment with only a kitchen or bathroom light providing light. To me it seems he has slipped through the cracks. Read more here

Posted in asylees, housing, housing, substandard, IRC, Matching Grant program, ORR, Phoenix, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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 »

World Refugee Day – A look back at past year

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 20, 2014

community oversight

I thought that this World Refugee Day might be a good occasion to take a look back at some of the stories of the past year in refugee resettlement — to see what areas are in need of improvement.

Here are a few of the stories from the past twelve months:

Springfield, MA Mayor asks State Dept. to stop resettling refugees

Refugees in substandard housing in Springfield, MA

Rodent infestation so pervasive they were nibbling on a disabled child’s feeding tube

Refugee in Springfield, MA points to deficiencies in resettlement services

Both City of Springfield, MA and refugee agencies take little responsibility

Proof that Springfield resettlement agencies placed refugees in substandard housing

Refugees abused at Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville

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

Refugee resettlement agency intern reveals agency secrets


Posted in neglect | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Attacker of Albuquerque Iraqi Catholic refugee yelled anti-Muslim obscenities

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 17, 2014


An Iraqi Catholic refugee alleges she was assaulted in her Albuquerque apartment and robbed of $20,000 in gold. Now the FBI is investigating the case as a possible federal hate crime. An article in the Daily Reporter covers the story:

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — An Iraqi Catholic refugee who was assaulted in her Albuquerque apartment appears to be the victim of a hate crime by an attacker who yelled obscenities about Muslims, police said.

According to Albuquerque police, a man last week forced his way into the home of Seham Jaber, shouting nasty remarks about Muslims and punching her in the head and stomach. The intruder then tore up her family’s citizenship papers in the June 5 attack, investigators said.

“The irony is the individual thought the family was Muslim, and they’re actually refugees from Iraq who are Catholic,” Albuquerque police spokesman Simon Drobik said.

Jaber, who speaks Arabic, told police the unknown assailant also stole at least $20,000 in gold, which represented her family’s life savings. The assailant also stole jewelry, she said.

“No house, no car. It was all in gold,” Saad Sajet, Jaber’s husband, told the Albuquerque Journal.

The suspect was described as wearing a mask, jeans and a yellow T-shirt.

No arrest has been made.

The FBI now is investigating the case as a possible federal hate crime, Albuquerque police said Friday… Read more here

Posted in anti-Islamic, Catholic, dangerous neighborhoods, FBI, hate crimes, Iraqi, New Mexico, police, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Child migrants claim abuse by U.S. Border Patrol agents

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 15, 2014


Tens of thousands of children have crossed the border illegally since 2011 and now some of them are coming forward with stories of abuse at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol agents.  One boy claims an agent punched him in the stomach. We dealt with this agency back in 2010 when agents detained a Somali refugee in North Dakota for failing to keep an I-20 identification card on his person. The agency played games in trying to reject our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In 2011 a whistle-blower at the agency reported that staff get paid overtime while not working.  An article at The Wire explains the recent abuse allegations:

Some of the tens of thousands of children who have crossed the border since 2011 claim that they’ve been physically and verbally abused by border patrol agents while in their custody. Documents obtained by BuzzFeed via the Freedom of Information Act didn’t specify whether the claims were ever substantiated or investigated by the Border Patrol, but government officials filed two dozen reports about such allegations.

These “Significant Incident Reports” were made by staff at shelters connected to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement between March of 2011 and 2013. The office receives the children within three days of their apprehension. One girl from Guatemala claims her leg was run over by border patrol vehicle while she was trying to escape, though officials didn’t believe her. Another boy said an agent punched him in the stomach.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not commented on the abuse allegations, but on Monday afternoon the organization replaced its head of internal affairs, James F. Tomsheck, “amid concerns about use-of-force investigations of Border Patrol agents,” according to The Washington Post… Read more here

Posted in abuse, children, U.S. Customs & Border Protection | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees preyed upon on Rochester NY streets

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 8, 2014


Refugees in Rochester NY say they are fed up with being targeted for crime on the city’s streets. Ironically, many of these refugees do not report the crimes to police. Reportedly, the assaults, robberies and verbal abuse against local Nepali-Bhutanese and other refugees are being committed by young men from the African-American community. There is some debate whether these attacks are hate crimes or if the young men are targeting the victims due to their vulnerability as immigrants. An article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle examines the issue:

Are the assaults, robberies and verbal abuse against local Bhutanese, Nepali and other refugees by young men from the African-American community hate crimes or crimes of economics and opportunity?

Perhaps a little of both.

Former Rochester police chief James Sheppard, who now works as a mentor to young African-American men whose lives have gone down paths of crime, downplayed tagging the crimes as “hate crimes” — defined generally as a criminal offense motivated by bias against race, religion, gender or other characteristics. He said the perpetrators are more often young black men who don’t feel good about themselves and who prey on the vulnerable for economic reasons…

Those who have been attacked say the abuse is often accompanied by comments such as “go back to your own country,” or “you don’t belong here.”…

Members of that community say they often do not call police because they either fear retaliation from the accused, they don’t think police will be effective at solving the problem, or they are simply more inclined just accept the abuse… Read more here

Posted in crime, dangerous neighborhoods, gangs, hate crimes, Nepali Bhutanese, police, Rochester, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Resettlement agency worker responds to my public comment

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 8, 2014


There’s a comment in response to my comments submitted to the U.S. State Department for their annual call for public comments.  The author works at a refugee resettlement agency and disagrees with my points.  Today I responded to the author of the comment; both his/her comment and my response are below:

Nilo Nilo said

Dear Mr. Coen,

I work for one of the voluntary agencies (volags), however I’m not commenting as a rep. of the agency. I appreciate your opinions and desire to improve the program, even if I disagree. I just wanted to respond to a few points in your post. PRM visits affiliate sites at least every fifth year (at the outside). For example if a site was last visited in FY10 they can expect to be visited in FY14. HQs are visited every year. HQs visit each of their affiliate sites at least every 3 years. From what I’ve seen, volags are often more rigorous in their review of sites and hold them to a higher standard than PRM/Cooperative Agreement standards. The idea of having external monitors is an interesting idea and would have its pros and cons. It would provide outside eyes and may (or may not) be more stringent than volag monitors. On the other hand, volags do work with sites everyday to ensure the best available services are provided, to trouble shoot issues, and help them with training among other things. The depth of knowledge volags have about their affiliates allows a more specific review of programs (better or worse I couldn’t say).

In both PRM and volag monitoring visits, 4 families are visited in their homes and interviewed with interpretation (for one hour to 90 minutes each) about the services they received, their relationship with the agency, and their feelings about their resettlement experience. This makes up one-third to one-half of the visit time (including the time it takes to travel to and from refugees homes which are often far apart). I would disagree that either PRM or volags place more emphasis on documentation then refugee feedback.

Also, PRMs visits are announced 2 weeks before a visit, which could give sites a little time to scramble to cover tracks, I suppose, but is mostly because staff are very busy and sites need to make sure they have time and coverage during a PRM visit (when daily work is interrupted) to host the monitors. In my experience, serious issues tend to be systemic and are not so easy to “clean up” before a visit.

I’m not sure what you have in mind for monetary penalties (the specific agencies? the HQ?) but while both HQ and the agencies are technically “contractors” I think that term makes it easy to confuse with other, private, government contracts which are well funded – that is not the case in resettlement. We are all not for profit and compensated (as individuals and agencies) at a much lower rate than Deloitte or whoever comes to mind as a contractor – there are no profits – so monetary penalties would directly affect programs and (by turn refugees). Sites that have serious problems face restrictions on arrivals, heavier over-site, and if they don’t improve will be shut down. That last step doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

The operational guidance you link to appears to be an overview of some of the R&P requirements, from FY2007. I think it’s important for your readers to know that the volags and agencies are actually held to a 51 page contract called the Cooperative Agreement, which is updated with new requirements each fiscal year. If you feel the content of this contract isn’t comprehensive enough or should include more/different requirements, that is a fair opinion, but I wouldn’t want anyone to be confused and think that the link you provided is what is used to guide programing or services.

There are improvements that need to be made in the program, believe me, but I think there is sometimes a misconception that resettlement agencies are somehow using the program to make money (it is always a loss – the amount provided is actually less than half of what it takes to run the program) or that staff are uncaring or incompetent. The first is never true and the second no more so than anywhere else. In my opinion, if one wants to help refugees, they should point out the flaws, but also advocate for increased funding both for per capita refugee funds and administration (which does, in fact, cost money). To be honest, resettlement is really an area where it is rather astonishing how much is done with so little, if one is willing to take in the full picture.


…and my response:

Thank-you for your comment. Yes, I have heard the claim of the State Dept visiting resettlement sites for monitoring inspections every 5 years but the inspection reports supplied from our FOIA requests do not back that up, so I’ll believe it when I see it.

I can’t be impressed with self-monitoring by resettlement agencies. How often do they report cheating, neglect, serious mistakes? What would be their incentive? Its a public program, therefore the results of these self-inspections should be easily available to the public. They are not available at all.

How are four families selected by the State Dept. for interviews? Shouldn’t all refugees at least fill out a questionnaire about their experiences in order to find problems, and then a visit to the four most serious cases? It would be done that way if the State Dept. as partner/friend/overseer of the resettlement agencies wanted to find problems.

If the State Dept is only interviewing four families to get their opinions, while relying on agency documentation for all the rest, then it is inarguable that the State Dept. places more emphasis on resettlement agencies’ documentation then on refugee feedback.

The pre-announced notification has allowed agencies to visit refugees to tell them what to say (a Tampa area agency was caught doing this), to deliver money and required items that were due weeks or months earlier (this is documented in the monitoring reports, copies of which are found on our website), and quick filling-in of documentation forms that were never completed or even begun and which were supposed to be contemporaneous (a practice also found in the monitoring reports).

Agencies would need to take monetary penalties from salaries, as management is responsible for violations and should take the penalty. Any charity that didn’t do this, but instead took the penalty from refugee programing, would obviously have no credibility.

As you said, the shutting down of agencies doesn’t happen often; not even after repeated, serious violations. Its a rare bird, therefore agencies need not worry too much.

The Operational Guidance is rarely changed, therefore a 2007 date should not surprise you. The previous one was in 2001 I believe. Changes are always minor. If you know of a newer version let us and the public know.

We link to the the Basic Terms of the Cooperative Agreement as our number one link (see bottom left column), so we do not pretend that the Operational Guidance is the only contract document (and the wording was changed under pressure form agencies around year 2000 so that even these minimum requirements are no longer a strict requirement). Even the most comprehensive contract document, however, is worth nothing if it is not enforced, penalties are non-existent, and agency shut-downs are so rare.

I have never claimed that refugee resettlement is a money-making enterprise. I have pointed out that many agencies are operating on 90% and above government funding, and linked to IRS 990 forms which prove this point. There is no reason to expect that resettlement agencies be fully compensated for resettlement. Resettlement was historically a private enterprise fully funded by charities. The U.S. federal government got involved in a large capacity after WWII to counter the communist block’s influence. The money the State Dept. furnishes is meant to be seed money for the agencies, who are expected to add significant private funding (which is regularly and often not done, resulting in credibility issues).

I think asking everyone to join you in requesting additional per capita funding for resettlement is hard to do when resettlement agencies have yet to prove that use the public money they get well, and when they fail to raise significant private funding as required. Your image is tied to your performance. That is why I ask for significant change in the program so that the public will gain trust and offer full support.


Posted in funding, moratorium / restriction / reduction, neglect, openess and transparency in government, Operational Guidance, public/private partnership, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »


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