Friends of Refugees

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Archive for the ‘police’ Category

Kansas bounty hunter wrongfully attacks former Lost Boy of Sudan in Amarillo

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 2, 2013


One of the former Lost Boys of Sudan now living in Amarillo, Texas has filed a negligence lawsuit against a Kansas bounty hunter claiming the man wrongfully targeted him and attacked without warning. Aguer Gak claims that Donald Ray Adams, without announcing his intentions or identifying himself as a bounty hunter, and without asking Gak his name or for any identification, Tased Gak, pepper sprayed him, Tased him again, and then shackled Gak in Amarillo on Nov. 17, 2012. Adams claimed he was searching for a bail jumper. In the state of Kansas becoming a licensed bounty hunter requires only completing a two-day course and paying $200. An article at has the details of the story:

An Amarillo man filed a negligence suit Wednesday against a Kansas bounty hunter, alleging the man wrongfully identified him as a bail jumper, Tasing and assaulting him in front of a north Amarillo motel last year.

The suit was filed in 320th District Court by Aguer Gak, a Sudanese immigrant who works at Tyson Fresh Meats, against Donald Ray Adams.

On Nov. 17, 2012, Adams, 66, approached Gak about 8:30 p.m. as Gak was talking on a cellphone near the Cowboy Motel, 3619. E. Amarillo Blvd., according to the suit and Amarillo police reports.

Without announcing his intentions or identifying himself as a bounty hunter, and without asking Gak his name or for any identification, Adams Tased Gak, then pepper sprayed him, then Tased him again, then shackled Gak,” the suit states. “The quick actions of an intervening Good Samaritan with a broom allowed Gak to escape Adams’ capture, with Gak fleeing for his life, still shackled with Adams’ restraints.”

During the melee, two other witnesses called 911 and one man told police the fracas sounded like someone was being killed…

One witness, Deng Awon Kon, told police Adams left in his pickup before police arrived. Kon said he followed Adams until he stopped near some police vehicles.

Adams, according to a police report, told officers Gak, 33, was a Kansas bail jumper he was attempting to apprehend, but one investigating officer determined Adams had attempted to capture the wrong man.

Officers said they later located Gak — who still was handcuffed and had two Taser probes buried in his arm — a few blocks from the motel. Officers transported him back to the motel, where he identified Adams as the man who attacked him, Amarillo police reports said.

A Potter County jury found Adams guilty of misdemeanor assault July 17, and a judge sentenced him to serve nine days in jail and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine…

Gak’s Amarillo attorney, Vince Nowak, said he suffered injuries to his head and his arm during the incident… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, police, safety, Sudanese | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Urban League of Springfield criticizes city’s stance against refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 9, 2013


An op-ed from September 1 by Urban League of Springfield’s president and CEO Henry M. Thomas III explains the group’s analysis of the city’s stance against the Somali Bantu refugees. He suggests that landlords took advantage of the Somali Bantu refugees with the notion that they would not be whistle blowers. He suggests that the city should be “focused on enforcement of landlord responsibilities to keep…rental housing properties up to code”, and that the court should be more quick in processing violation claims. He also points out that people “should hold accountable the agencies and government institutions that have…responsibilities to effectively, efficiently and prudently address the challenges the refugees face.” The op-ed is found in The Republican:

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno is asking the State Department to refrain from resettling refugees in the city of Springfield. He argues that addressing their needs has become a burden on city services, noting that the refugees are victims of crime, subject to substandard living conditions and a drain on School Department resources. 

We do not question whether the resettling of our newest residents is a legitimate challenge or not. The question is whether an exclusionary approach toward groups such as the Somali Bantu is our best solution. The Urban League of Springfield thinks not

The city should be focused on enforcement of landlord responsibilities to keep their rental housing properties up to code…

The plight of refugees in their home country is extraordinarily severe. Their living conditions in their home of origin are much more challenging than what they endure from negligent landlords in Springfield. Perhaps that is why absentee landlords feel that they can break the law and not get called on it.

Landlords don’t expect the Somali Bantu, who fear deportation, to be whistleblowers. We understand that the mayor has every right and obligation to advocate for the city’s best interests. However, we don’t think a short-sighted exclusionary tactic is the answer. Springfield should use the legal tools it has to deal with substandard housing, to make sure resettlement resources offered by the federal and state government are adequate and to rethink the utilization of school resources to appropriately handle our educational obligations to the Somali Bantu children…

We should hold accountable the agencies and government institutions that have defined responsibilities to effectively, efficiently and prudently address the challenges the refugees face…

Local leaders must work to solve problems, not sidestep them. We realize the city is strapped for resources and we are totally empathic to that reality…

Going forward, the resettlement agencies will need to step up their games to be stronger trainers and advocates; City Hall will need to be tougher in prosecuting violators of housing codes; the court will need to be more expeditious in processing violation claims; and the School Department will need to rethink utilization of resources to provide required educational support.

Surrounding cities and towns should open their doors as well. The undisputed degree of difficulty around resettling refugees can be mitigated by learning from the mistakes made thus far; here and elsewhere… Read more here

Posted in crime, housing, housing, substandard, Jewish Family Service of Western Masachusetts, LSS Lutheran Social Services of New England, moratorium / restriction / reduction, police, school for refugee children, schools, Somali Bantu, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Springfield refugee resettlement task force meeting closed to the public

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 7, 2013

meetingIn a secretive meeting closed to the public, on Thursday the Mayor of Springfield, MA and five agencies involved in refugee resettlement will sit down as part of a task force to discuss the mayor’s claims of alleged problems in local refugee resettlement. The two refugee resettlement agencies have released documents ahead of the meeting that show what services and programs they offer the refugees. The argument being it seems that “there are just so many programs” for the refugees. None of that, however, tells us whether these services are actually delivered, whether the services are quality services, and how they address refugees’ problems that are not covered by the services and programs. Are refugees ever polled for their opinion on these services and programs to improve services? If not, why not? These people should be experts at what they need and both what they received and what they did not get. The two resettlement agencies also will not release information about how many refugees they resettled in Springfield in fiscal year 2013 that just ended at the end of September. They claim they need confirmation from the Massachusetts state refugee office. They don’t know how many refugees they resettled? Hmmm. For their part the City seems to still be taking the position that landlords who rent out properties in disrepair or who fail to make repairs is best blamed on tenants for merely living in such places – in this case refugee tenants – and that this causes “work” for the City code enforcement department. The City has also failed to say exactly what city services departments, such as police, have done to assist diverse populations, and what the schools are doing to teach refugee students. After all, the police should be the experts at public safety, and the schools should be the experts at education. What specifically would they like the refugee organizations to do to aid the police and the schools? An article in The Republican discusses issues surrounding the task force meeting set for Thursday, October 10th:

SPRINGFIELD — Two months after Mayor Domenic Sarno urged the federal government to stop sending new refugees to Springfield, a local task force will meet Thursday to respond to the mayor’s concerns about hardships faced by the refugees and the city…

Hopefully, this is the beginning of an open and honest dialogue with the resettlement agencies,” Sarno said Thursday, after receiving 14 documents that further explain the refugee resettlement program and the assistance received by refugees…

Sarno said he continues to have serious concerns that too many refugees are being placed in Springfield, straining city services such as schools, code enforcement, and police because of cases of substandard housing, claims of inadequate services by some refugees and their advocates, and challenges refugees face pertaining to language, education and employment…

The first meeting will be at 11 a.m., at the Law Office-Code Enforcement Division, 95 State St., and will be closed to the public…

DeSousa said the goal of the meetings is to ensure that refugees in Springfield have sufficient services including “adequately housed, have an understanding of and access to basic health care, have enough financial or in-kind support that they can meet their basic needs including shelter, food, heat, and transportation, and that sufficient support is in place to provide each family with the tools necessary to successfully acclimate to and participate in our community.” Read more here

Posted in housing, Jewish Family Service of Western Masachusetts, LSS Lutheran Social Services of New England, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Office of Admissions, openess and transparency in government, police, safety, schools, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Refugees in substandard housing in Springfield, MA

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 17, 2013

 8-14-13, rotted roof shingles 2

The Mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts has asked the State Department to stop approving placement of refugees to the City by the two local refugee resettlement agencies due to concerns about refugees living in substandard housing, crimes against refugees, and strain on City resources including the school system. The substandard housing is an issue this blog has covered extensively. A few of the resettlement sites covered here include Columbus, Phoenix, Louisville, Bowling Green, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Omaha, Fredericksburg, Chicago, Houston (and here), Rockford, Knoxville, and Syracuse.

 Mayor Sarno apparently attached five housing inspection reports to his letter to the State Department but those are not included in the copy accompanying the August 13th article in the The Republican newspaper. His comments in the letter about substandard housing conditions are here:

8-13-13, blurb from Springfied mayor letter to B. Day re substandard housing

A video news report at WWLP -22News claims to show some of the conditions at these apartments, including this one showing rotted roof shingles, no hot running water and infestation with bugs:

8-14-13, rotted roof shingles

Robert Marmor, president and CEO of the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, said his agency “does not place any person or family in ‘uninhabitable’ residences or unsafe conditions,” while also claiming that his own personal inspection of eight apartments found two in poor condition due to “landlord negligence.” (See August 14, 2013 article in The Republican, Mayor Domenic Sarno’s call for freeze on more refugees in Springfield draws rebuttals). How were the eight apartments chosen as a sample?

The resettlement agencies are claiming they do not place refugees in substandard housing, yet the carefully chosen wording leaves open the possibility that apartment conditions soon deteriorate and refugees are either unable to communicate issues to the landlords or landlords are taking advantage of refugees’ lack of understanding about their housing rights. If so, where are the resettlement agencies when this occurs? Have they done enough to educate refugees about their housing rights? Do they monitor ongoing conditions after refugees track out of the short initial resettlement phase? What exactly have they done to help advocate for refugees living in substandard conditions? Notice that none of these basic questions are answered by the resettlement agencies’ short and apparently carefully constructed PR statements.

The Mayor for his part though should also explain what the City has done and is doing to deal with negligent landlords. Are there protections for tenants who may face retaliation when they report code violations to the City? Are local courts fair to community members who face eviction hearings or who take landlords to small claims court?

Posted in Congolese, crime, dangerous neighborhoods, Eritrean, HIAS, housing, housing, substandard, Iranian, Jewish Family Service of Western Masachusetts, LSS Lutheran Social Services of New England, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Nepali Bhutanese, Office of Admissions, police, rats and roaches, safety, schools, Somali Bantu, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Police changing procedures after refugees murdered at apartment complex in Phoenix

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 30, 2013


In light of the communication problems after the murder of two Karenni refugees at apartment complex in Phoenix in April, the police will now have access to refugee community leaders and interpreters in the communities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Officers can also carry a card that includes contact numbers for refugee agencies and questions to ask refugees to better identify appropriate resources. An article in The Arizona Republic explains:

…Two Burmese refugees were stabbed at the Serrano Village Apartments near 28th Avenue and Camelback Road, leaving fellow refugees stunned and afraid.

Ker Reh, 54, and Kay Reh, 24, who are not related, were attacked outside an apartment unit where they were attending a prayer service for a friend who had died of natural causes….

Thousands of Burmese refugees call Phoenix home, and the homicides highlighted the struggles the community faces. Community leaders and the police department are working to overcome some of those issues, such as language barriers and fear of the police…

More than 4,100 Burmese refugees have moved to Arizona since fiscal 1999 with a majority of them — 3,858 — concentrated in apartments around Phoenix…

The main stumbling block for the refugees is their lack of English skills, leaders said. Phoenix police had to call a translator on April 28 to the murder scene to help piece together what had happened.

…many refugees don’t call 911 for help because they can’t speak English.

The 911 ask many questions so people are scared to call,” said Ray, who taught himself English when he arrived to this country. He spent 20 years in a Thai refugee camp.

Phary Reh, 35, said many of the older refugees also fear the police because of their experiences with them in Thailand and Burma.

When they are driving and see police, they are scared,” he said. “In their heart, it reminds them of the police in Thailand.”…

Police spokesman Steve Martos said the department also is enhancing its ability to serve the Myanmar refugees.

This incident helped us address a deficiency as it relates to language barriers,” he said. “We have since worked with the refugee community to find ways we can have access to their community leaders and someone to translate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”…

Now, officers can carry a card that includes contact numbers for refugee agencies and questions to ask refugees to better identify appropriate resources… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities Phoenix, crime, dangerous neighborhoods, gangs, hate crimes, Karenni, language, Phoenix, police, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Somali refugees reported higher level of victimization in neighborhood crime

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 8, 2013


A 2010 survey in Clarkston, GA near downtown Atlanta found that Somali refugees were more likely to claim victimization from neighborhood crime than other refugee nationalities or ethnic groups. While Somali refugees made up 21 percent of respondents, they accounted for 46 percent of respondents who claimed to have been victimized in the last year. The report has many ideas for lessening the danger of street crime against refugees. See page eight of the report Safer Clarkston Partnership:

Somali's more likely to be victimized

Read more here

Posted in Atlanta, dangerous neighborhoods, police, safety, Somali | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Safety for refugees in Tukwila

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 19, 2013


Tukwila, a suburb of Seattle is a hub of refugee resettlement in that metropolitan area. Safety for refugees is a major issue. An article in The Seattle Times discusses these issues, although only speaks to refugees who feel safe in the city. Perhaps all of those who didn’t feel safe moved out? The IRC claims it moved most of their refugee resettlement from Seattle to Tukwila ten years ago because Seattle was too expensive and unsafe. Apparently Tukwila has lower cost apartments, albeit with the same safety issues as Seattle?

…White, black and every shade in between is elbow-to-elbow, eating lunch [at the Tukwila public school]. Somali. Kenyan. Eritrean. Bosnian. Turkish. Korean. Vietnamese. Mexican. Russian. Burmese. Nepali. You need a world map to keep track.

The cultural mash-up is one of the more obvious signs of the global migration that has transformed this once sleepy Seattle suburb into an international city of the future…

…In Tukwila, 62 percent of the population is minority and more than 49 percent speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2010 census.

The New York Times named its school district the single most diverse in the country, with 71 percent minority students.

Tukwila’s diversity is a source of pride here. It’s also a source of challenges for the police, the growing school district and residents facing larger problems: nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, compared to 12 percent in Seattle, and Tukwila’s crime rate is the highest in King County…

…The city’s current ethnic makeup is due, in large part, to the efforts of refugee-resettlement agencies, especially the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit agency that helps people fleeing persecution and war.

The IRC’s Seattle office used to place most of its clients in Seattle. But about 10 years ago, Seattle became too expensive and too dangerous, says the agency’s executive director in Seattle, Bob Johnson. A case worker, who lived in Tukwila and knew an apartment manager there, suggested they look south.

Borka Markovic’-Paponjak was living in a refugee camp when the IRC relocated her and her family from Bosnia to Tukwila in April 2007.

“Tukwila was a scary place then,” she says. “There was prostitution, drug dealing, gang fights. Ten days after we arrived, a guy was killed in front of the coffee shop for 20 bucks.”

But Markovic’-Paponjak and her husband both got jobs. The kids thrived at school, and the other Bosnians in the complex formed a tight bond, watching after each other’s children and holding summertime pool parties.

“Now, I don’t have a speck of fear in me,” says Markovic’-Paponjak, who these days owns a home here and helps other refugees at the IRC. “Tukwila is warmer, nicer, willing to help,” she says. “

Each year, about 500 refugees are placed in Tukwila. Once on their feet, many move on, and their foods disappear from the Trading Post’s shelves…

…People attending [police] meetings as part of the city’s strategic-planning process repeatedly cited the city’s high crime rate as one of the most pressing problems… Read more here

Posted in dangerous neighborhoods, police, safety, Seattle | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Karenni men from Myanmar killed in Phoenix on April 27th

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 11, 2013

More Halloween Clip Art Illustrations at

Five suspects are wanted in the stabbing deaths of two ethnic Karenni men in an argument at a Phoenix, Arizona apartment complex on April 27th. The safety of refugees in many communities in the U.S. where our program resettled them has been a concern of ours for over ten years now. My question is this: if the Language Line is a known tool for communicating in hundreds of languages on short notice, and police today walk with cell phones, why isn’t that method being used in these incidents? Of course refugee resettlement agencies should also issue all refugee cases with a card that lists phone numbers to call in emergencies – including interpreters. Unfortunately many agencies don’t even bother to make sure that their caseworkers give refugees their business cards. An article at The Republic covers the incident:

Police are still searching for five suspects after two  people who gathered to help a family mourn the loss of a loved one were stabbed to death at a Phoenix apartment complex Sunday morning, authorities said Monday.

Phoenix police received a 911 call just after midnight of someone being stabbed at an apartment at 2828 W. Camelback  Road, Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steve Martos said. Arriving officers found two men with stab wounds. Both died at the scene.

Witnesses said the people at the apartment were attending a “Nar Ye Nyi Hmut,” which is a Burmese gathering held before a funeral during which relatives and friends stay overnight and offer grief support to a family who recently lost a loved one.

Police suspect that three teenagers on their way to attend the gathering had an altercation with four male teenagers and one female teenager, police said. The teenagers going to the funeral were able to make it to the apartment and explained what happened. The other teens followed.

Two men at the funeral went outside to try to calm down the teenagers who followed the other teens home, police said. The teenagers stabbed the men to death.

Police consulted with translators to determine what happened because of the Burmese language barrier between police and the approximately 40 to 50 people who were inside the apartment, Martos said.

Police have not identified the victims yet.

The apartment complex largely is populated by people from various Asian countries, including Burma, Nepal and Iraq… Read more here

Additional information about the victims and the suspects is found in a Channel 3 report:

…Police have identified the victims as Ker Reh, 54 and Kay Reh, 24…

…With the assistance of translators, investigators learned that three teenagers between 15 and 16 years old were walking to the apartment complex to join friends and family to mourn the loss of a community member when they were confronted by five teenagers who engaged them in an altercation. Martos said the suspects were four Hispanic males and one Hispanic female.

The three teenagers ran to the apartment where 40 to 50 people were gathered and told two men what had occurred and that they were being chased by the suspects.

Martos said the two men stepped outside of the apartment to try to calm the suspects and prevent further altercation. The suspects then began to stab both men.

All five suspects fled the scene on foot. 

Witnesses described the weapon as some type of long metal crowbar-like rod. Police have not confirmed the weapon.

Investigators are asking for the public’s help in identifying and locating the suspects. Anyone with information related to this crime is encouraged to call the Phoenix Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit at 602-262-6141 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS to remain anonymous. Read more here

Posted in crime, dangerous neighborhoods, housing, Karenni, language, men, Phoenix, police, safety, teenagers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Accused translator for IRC refugees still has not been tried

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 6, 2013


In 2010 this blog reported on a case in Abilene, Texas in which a health district employee was accused of sexual assault of IRC refugee woman, then charged and jailed. Apparently after all this time the man has still not been tried in the matter. One of the constitutional rights we supposedly enjoy in this country is the right to a speedy trail, which is a potential concern in this case. Zane Travis in a letter to the Abilene Reporter-News expresses his own concern about the case:

I wish to alert Abilenians to a perceived injustice. You may have noticed recently that the trial for Aloys Nzeyimana was postponed for the 10th time.

Aloys was employed by the Abilene Health District as an interpreter for International Rescue Committee refugees and worked under my supervision and that of the official refugee nurse. For about five years. We watched him help refugees above and beyond expected duties, with kindness and humor. He was active in his church and at local organized refugee information meetings.

In December 2010, he was arrested in a parking lot as he was leaving the health department, apparently accused of sexually assaulting several refugee women. At the time of his arrest, he was held in the parking lot for 50 minutes until the newspaper could get there and take his picture, which was on the front page the next day. His office was quickly searched and contents removed.

His fellow employees (including me) were shocked at the charges. His bail was set at $450,000 — a heroic amount for no reported injuries. Nobody ever went to the E.R. claiming they had been raped or attacked. It is believed that the original charges may have been spurred by a disgruntled stepdaughter, who had been brought here from Africa at Aloys’ expense. Apparently there was a problem finding people who were allegedly hurt by him, since a notice was placed in Swahili on the front page of the paper asking for people to come forward who had been harmed by him… Read more here

Posted in Abilene, court, IRC, police, safety, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Buffalo cop goes out of his way to assist refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 23, 2012

An article in the Buffalo News explains how a police officer in that city has taken the initiative to help refugees locally. Each year he joins a clothing drive for refugees, and has even traveled to Burma/Myanmar to see how the refugees from that country live. The article also mentions that refugees in Buffalo are living in code-breaking bungalows (rentals?) and that when they arrive they do not seem to get cold-weather clothing (the State Department contract supposedly requires resettlement agencies to give refugees all needed clothing).

From The Buffalo News:

He got the call a few years ago. A woman was wandering, lost, on Buffalo’s West Side. She did not speak English. The encounter sparked Mike Long’s journey from his South Buffalo roots, more deeply into the streets he patrols, and finally to the Burmese countryside.

A Google search led the Buffalo cop to Jericho Road Ministries, the refugee help center. Within minutes, the lost woman in his patrol car was flanked by translators fluent in Burundi and Swahili. They made sense of the woman’s words. Long drove her home – and knew he needed to better understand her world.

“You never want to impose your beliefs on a people, or feel like you know what is best for them,” he said Friday. “I thought I could better serve the refugees here if I saw where they came from.”

In the spirit of helping, the 37-year-old cop took a reverse-immigrant journey. A friend of a friend had started an orphanage in the Burmese countryside. A few months ago, Long joined a caravan bringing medicine, Crocs and clothes to 35 kids…

…Many refugees who resettle on the West Side – mostly Burmese and brightly garbed Somalis – live in code-busting bungalows…

[Long] also knows what he sees every winter: Recent arrivals, shoulders hunched against the freeze, wearing nothing warmer than a long-sleeved shirt. It is why Long, three years ago, jumped headlong into Jericho Road’s annual clothing drive (… Read more here

Posted in Buffalo, Burma/Myanmar, clothes, housing, housing, substandard, police | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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