Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘police’ Category

Refugees on Buffalo’s West Side continue to endure violent assaults and break-ins

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 4, 2015

paralyzed_stickmanA continuing series of violent assaults and break-ins are afflicting the refugee population in Buffalo, NY. These issues were already front and center four years when resettlement agencies attacked the messenger by criticizing filmmakers who helped bring forward the issues with a film. In 2012 the violence against the refugees continued. Now critics are saying that Buffalo police and city officials have been slow to respond to the challenges, including: language barriers, a lack of translators and refugees’ distrust of police related to abuse in their homelands. The issue of using refugees to counter population declines in troubled areas of the nation is also a central issue here. Dozens of frustrated Burmese have now gone public with their complaints this month at a Common Council meeting. An article in The Buffalo News tells more:

Other than the privacy curtain, it could pass for a hotel room. Clean and bright, there is a bedside table, a lamp, a bureau and a flat-screen TV. K’Paw Wah leaned back on his pillow…TV remote in hand, switched channels to a basketball game…

For most, it is a simple hand movement. For Wah – reed-thin, with stark cheekbones and flowing black hair – it is a triumph of will and spirit.

Only after laborious therapy has the Burmese immigrant of Karen ethnicity regained movement in his right arm. The comfortable room is not in a hotel, but in Terrace View nursing home near Erie County Medical Center. Wah has been hospitalized since a mugging last June left him paralyzed, a disheartening symbol of the assaults and break-ins afflicting the immigrant population on Buffalo’s West Side.

The county executive last week celebrated the recent influx of immigrants, which has staunched the county’s three-decade population bleed. The other side of the immigrant story is K’Paw Wah. He was born and raised in a Thai refugee camp, after his parents fled from oppressive Burmese rulers. He and his two daughters four years ago followed his older brother to Buffalo.

Wah’s dream of freedom ended violently. Heading home from a West Side convenience store late one night, he was jumped by at least two men with, he recalled, “their faces covered.” The attackers, Wah told me in halting but clear English, threw him hard to the ground, breaking his neck.

The thieves took his cellphone but, more than that, left him imprisoned in his body. Friends say he only recently regained movement in one arm and can stand at a walker while supported. Despite recent gains, he likely will always be physically dependent. No arrests have been made…

Wah’s fate is the grimmest reminder of the fragility of the immigrant population. Buffalo’s West Side is the end point for Burmese, Somalis, Burundi and other newcomers. Circumstances render them vulnerable and tough to protect. Language barriers, a lack of translators and a distrust of police related to abuse in their homeland contribute to their problems. Critics say police and city officials have been slow to respond to the challenge. Dozens of frustrated Burmese went public with their complaints this month at a Common Council meeting… Read more here

Posted in Buffalo, Burma/Myanmar, police, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Amarillo TX resettlement agencies oblivious to local conditions

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 28, 2014

obliviousNancy Koons, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle (CFS), has an op-ed piece in the local newspaper in Amarillo claiming that her organization’s attempt to cut resettlement in response to an overwhelmed local community and government agencies was undermined by increased refugee resettlement by Refugee Services of Texas, Amarillo office (RST). The picture she presents is of resettlement agencies seemingly disconnected from each other and from the impact of resettlement on the local host community. If the details are correct, then looking beyond her blaming the other resettlement agency in town to defend her own agency, one has to admire her for her honesty. Its only by facing the truth that problems may be corrected, and honesty promotes community trust. Although Koons took over as head of CFS in 2011 neither her predecessor nor anyone else at her agency apparently passed on to her the facts about the local community being overwhelmed with resettlement numbers (were they oblivious too?), and despite having lived in the community herself for six years Koons claims not have known anything until local government units came to her to complain. She claims to have then invited resettlement leaders to town to meet with local resettlement partners (something alternatively that Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Clarendon took credit for). Koons says she then reduced CFS’ projected refugee arrivals for 2012, but that RST, also claiming to be completely unaware of overwhelmed local government units, then increased their projected 2012 arrivals. The story paints a picture of resettlement agencies out of touch with their local community. The op-ed piece is found online at Amarillo Globe-News:

Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, formerly Catholic Family Service Inc. [CFS], has provided social services in the Texas Panhandle since 1932, including a refugee resettlement program that began in the mid-1970s, following the fall of Saigon…

The refugee program was in response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] which, with other national organizations, assisted the U.S. State Department with resettlement nationwide. With the goal of helping refugees achieve self-sufficiency, one consideration for establishment of a resettlement site was availability of employment. The meat-packing industry became a primary source…

…Until 2007-2008, USCCB was the only volunteer agency (volag) that facilitated resettlement in Amarillo, doing so through CFS.

In 2007-08, two more national volags began facilitating resettlement in Amarillo — Lutheran Immigration Services and Church World Services…These two additional volags facilitate refugee resettlement through Refugee Services of Texas, Amarillo office [RST].

Resettlement peaked in 2010 when CFS resettled 448 individuals and RST-Amarillo resettled 251 individuals. In total, 699 refugees were resettled in Amarillo in 2010. Refugees also came to Amarillo from other areas of the country, having already resettled through agencies in other cities. This is referred to as secondary migration…

In August 2011, I began in my role as executive director at CFS. Residing out of the Amarillo area for six years, I was unaware of the dramatic increase in refugee resettlement, languages and cultures, and consequently the impact on the community — particularly the schools. It wasn’t long before I heard from numerous concerned residents and staff from the Amarillo Independent School District. It was clear that the increasing rate of resettlement needed to slow down significantly to allow the community to catch up with challenges brought about by dramatic demographic changes. I invited officials from USCCB in Washington D.C., and the state refugee coordinator from Austin to meet with representatives from AISD to hear their challenges. At this meeting, AISD representatives graciously articulated extraordinary challenges in the schools. They begged USCCB and the state refugee coordinator to slow down the rate of resettlement to give AISD and the community the opportunity to “catch up,” and enable them to better serve all of the student population.

At CFS, I immediately reduced our projected arrivals for fiscal year 2012 by 50 percent, the projection of 400 was reduced to 200. RST-Amarillo had projected 200 arrivals for fiscal year 2012.

I learned soon after that our agency’s reduction was picked up by RST-Amarillo — they increased their projected 2012 arrivals to 400. Unfortunately, the community did not experience the reduction we had intended. In the following months, the local director of RST-Amarillo said he was unaware of problems at the schools. To his defense, complaints came to CFS because the community was, and still is, largely unaware of a second resettlement agency in Amarillo.

Frustrated that our effort to reduce was wasted, I researched arrival data from the State Department and compared it to Census data. Clearly, Amarillo had one of the highest resettlement rates per-capita in the state, if not the U.S.

In July 2012, I shared this information with Mayor Paul Harpole. Dialogue continues on the local and national levels to address critical refugee issues in our community. Compared to fiscal year 2010, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle anticipates 160 arrivals, a 64 percent reduction from 2010. RST-Amarillo anticipates 282 arrivals, a 12 percent increase from 2010… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, police, refugee, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

San Diego police kill Myanmar refugee who had mental illness

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 19, 2014

human-target-bullet-holes-300

San Diego police have shot and killed a refugee from Myanmar who had a mental illness.  The young man’s family called police after he threatened them with knives and a stick and police then escalated the volatile situation by breaking down the door and sending in a police dog.  After the young man injured the dog with a machete swing to its back he allegedly swung the weapon at police prompting two officers to open fire. This case is part of a growing problem of people with severe mental disorders who are coming in contact with the criminal justice system, with sometimes deadly consequences, without adequate mental health services.  As a result of other tragic killings by police, many police departments are using a crisis intervention team model, in which specially trained officers are dispatched to a scene when a person with mental illness is involved. An article at Fox 5 San Diego covers the killing of the refugee from Myanmar:

SAN DIEGO – Friends of a young man with mental illness, who was killed by police after he threatened his family and police with knives and a stick at his City Heights apartment over the weekend, wondered if police could have handled it differently.

Patrol personnel went to the residence in the 3800 block of Menlo Avenue at 10:20 p.m. Sunday on reports that a man was threatening the lives of his family, according to San Diego police.

Officers arrived to find the man holding a knife and a stick and behaving in an “agitated” manner, Lt. Mike Hastings said. As the officers tried to persuade him to disarm himself, he allegedly began threatening them and retrieved a machete.
Officers tried in vain to subdue the suspect with stun guns and police dogs, Hastings said. When one of the canines approached, the man struck the animal on the back with the machete, according to police.

The suspect then allegedly swung the weapon at an officer, prompting two others to open fire. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
The man was identified by friends on a social media website as 21-year-old Burmese refugee from Myanmar named Ja Ma Lo Day…

He suffered from mental illness and had been involved in several prior encounters with the police, according to the online posting… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, language, mental health, police, San Diego | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Rochester, NY still under attack

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 4, 2014

caution-this-is-sparta_2

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 »

Attacker of Albuquerque Iraqi Catholic refugee yelled anti-Muslim obscenities

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 17, 2014

stock-photo-criminal-robber-burglar-kidnapper-rapist-thief-icon-symbol-sign-pictogram-110184695

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 »

Refugees preyed upon on Rochester NY streets

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 8, 2014

bullying.

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 »

Springfield, Massachusetts case back into the public spotlight

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 1, 2014

no_elec

The refugee case in Springfield, Massachusetts has come back into the public spotlight after police responding to call from a Somali family discovered them living in an apartment with an extremely heavy roach infestation and no electricity. Of the family’s children two required special breathing equipment, which was not functioning without electricity.  City inspectors said it was the worst roach infestation they had ever seen and condemned the apartment. In addition, there were missing or non-working smoke detectors, no working stove, and other conditions that made the apartment uninhabitable. The mayor and others have of course jumped on the refugee resettlement agencies in town but the family was resettled in 2003 and moved out of the state only to move back, and then out again and then back again.  Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts last assisted the family in 2011 until the family moved out-of-state a second time and claim it was not aware the family needed help again.

A couple of articles in The Republican newspaper report on the case:

SPRINGFIELD – City officials said Tuesday that Somali refugees including 12 children were found living in deplorable conditions in a Union Street apartment that had a heavy infestation of roaches and no electricity.

The duplex apartment at 515 Union St. was condemned Thursday by the city, and the tenants — believed to number three adults and 12 children — were relocated after Code Enforcement and Housing officials were notified and conducted the inspection, city officials said.

“It was the heaviest infestation of roaches I have seen in years,” said David Cotter, the city’s deputy director of code enforcement in the Housing Division. “They were all over the walls, floors, ceilings, window areas, doorways. I ordered all the inspectors out of there until we could get a full extermination report.”

According to police, one child was doing her homework outside the building under a street lamp on Wednesday night due to the lack of electricity, Cotter said.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, who has been critical of the refugee resettlement policies in Springfield in the past, renewed his criticism on Tuesday. Refugees have not received adequate follow-up services from the resettlement agencies, from the federal level on down, leaving them to be a strain on city services, Sarno said.

“Where is the accountability?” Sarno said.

The residents were living in poverty and in crowded, unsafe conditions, Sarno said.

Sarno had urged the federal government to stop locating new refugees in Springfield last year, and called for a moratorium again on Tuesday.

“No mas, no more,” Sarno said… Read more here

Although Jewish Family Service is not responsible for this family, that was resettled eleven years ago, they have pledged to help.  A second article gives more information:

SPRINGFIELD – Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts President Robert Marmor said this week that his agency will work with the state to ensure the safety of 12 refugee children who were living in conditions at a Union Street apartment described as roach-infested…

In another twist, the 12 children and their parents have since moved temporarily into a Greenfield hotel after spending a night in a Marian Street apartment provided by their landlord. That apartment was also condemned, officials said…

Marmor, in a letter to Associate City Solicitor Lisa DeSousa, said his agency will act immediately to “ensure the children are safe and in appropriate child care and academic settings.”

David Cotter, the city’s deputy director of code enforcement, said the roach infestation was the worst he has seen in many years.

In addition, he said there were missing or non-working smoke detectors, no electricity or working stove, and other conditions that made the apartment uninhabitable.

Marmor said his employees, in communicating with the family, believe there has been numerous complaints to the landlord about conditions. The landlord is No Limit Investment, whose officers are listed as Jimmy Davis, of Philadelphia, and Dasha Miller, of Springfield, according to records.

Daniel Kelly, of Springfield, a lawyer representing the landlord, said they are working to correct all violations this week at 515 Union St. In addition, they are correcting violations found at the second apartment they provided to the family at 197 Marion St…

The electricity had been turned off at the Union Street apartment because of very large unpaid electric bills, Kelly said… Read more here

Posted in children, housing, Jewish Family Service of Western Masachusetts, moratorium / restriction / reduction, police, Somali Bantu, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 2, 2013

flee

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 Amarillo.com 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

code_enforcement

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, Lutheran Social Services of New England -- Ascentria Care Alliance, moratorium / restriction / reduction, police, school for refugee children, schools, Somali Bantu, Springfield | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 286 other followers