Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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SIVs still being wrongfully denied SSI benefits

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 19, 2015

deniedAn issue we first reported on in 2011 continues — SIV immigrants improperly denied social security benefits. An Iraqi SIV visa (Special Immigrant Visa) holder in California named Danial who arrived in June 2012 contacted us to report that the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied him SSI (Supplemental Security Income benefits). Yet, US law entitles SIV holders to these benefits for up to seven years if the person proves disability and has not been able to work for at least a year. Danial reports his case was medically approved as disabled. The SSA office in question is in Victorville, CA.

Following the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, P.L.(111-118) enacted on December 19,2009 making Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants eligible for resettlement assistance, federal benefits and entitlements including SSI benefits to the same extent and for the same period as refugees (limited to 7 years if they do not become US citizens), some social Security offices around the US did not seem to understand the law though the SSA put out a letter to local offices to clarify that SIVs were eligible (SSA emergency message EM10023). Also, the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) published State letter #10-02 confirming Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants as eligible for those benefits.

In 2015 this problem of SSA offices denying SIVs their legally allowed benefits continues – some SSA offices apparently still don’t understand the rules and are not observing the SSA’s letter. Instead, they are denying the applicants, with the only recourse to the denied applicant being to apply for a hearing on the matter if they wish to contest the decision. This involves a waiting period until the hearing, that the SIV may have to hire an attorney, going without desperately needed benefits, etc. Danial reports that he applied for Supplemental Security Income in March 2014, his case denied in September 2014, and that he appealed that decision in November 2014. As of today the SSA has still not reported to him any date for an appeal hearing.

Posted in Afghan, California, Iraqi, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Social Security Administration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Fire destroys all belonging of Albany refugee family

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 28, 2015

Fire-iconA Karen refugee family (from Myanmar/Burma via Thailand) in Albany, NY said they had complained to their landlord of smoke and a burning electrical smell. The landlord hired a handyman who replaced electrical outlets in the living room and in the parents’ bedroom, however, the family claim they saw burn marks on one of the electrical receptacles the handyman replaced. An outlet in the children’s bedroom was not replaced. A month later during the night of March 16th the children woke up to find flames engulfing their bedroom. The parents succeeded in getting all the children and the extended family out of the apartment. The landlord and his family in an upstairs apartment also escaped, and the house then burned to the ground. The fire destroyed all the family’s belongings, including a 19-year-old’s passport, other legal documents and $4,000 in cash he needed for a planned trip to Thailand to arrange his marriage to a woman in a refugee camp. The Albany Times-Union has the story:

Albany – The 9-year-old boy was awakened when it became uncomfortably hot as he slept, and his 7-year-old sister thought she was dreaming of bright orange shapes climbing up the bunk bed they shared.

By the time the wailing smoke alarm awakened their parents in an adjoining bedroom, flames had engulfed the bunk bed and were spreading across the children’s bedroom.
The 29-year-old mother scooped up the 2-year-old sleeping near her bed while her husband raced down the hall to guide their children and his wife’s brother and mother out of the smoke-filled apartment.

“Everything we owned was in there and now it’s gone,” said the woman…

All seven members of her Burmese refugee family escaped from the first-floor, two-bedroom apartment shortly after 11 p.m. on Monday [March 16] … in a row of two-family homes

The landlord and his family in the upstairs apartment also escaped from the conflagration that burned through the roof and destroyed the building.

All the belongings of the family — whose parents grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Albany several years ago — were destroyed. The woman’s 19-year-old brother lost $4,000 in cash, his passport and other legal documents he needed for a planned Friday flight to Thailand to arrange his marriage to a woman in a refugee camp he hopes to bring to Albany…

They did not have renter’s insurance. [The woman] said she did not know what that is

[She] said she had complained to the landlord a month ago of smoke and a burning electrical smell. He hired a handyman who replaced electrical outlets in the living room and in the parents’ bedroom. The woman said she saw burn marks on one of the electrical receptacles that was replaced. The outlet in the children’s bedroom was not replaced…

Three firefighters were injured, none seriously, and are out of work…
On Wednesday afternoon, a large pile of rubble where the two-family home had been was covered with plastic tarps, which flapped in a cold wind… Read more here

Posted in Albany, apartment building fires, children, housing, Karen, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

No birth control referrals for raped unaccompanied immigrant girls, say two faith based contractors

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 5, 2015

girl_symbol Refugee resettlement contractors World Relief and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) are demanding religious exemption for the requirement that federally funded organizations that house unaccompanied migrant children provide victims of sexual abuse with “unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment, crisis intervention services, emergency contraception, and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, in accordance with professionally accepted standards of care, where appropriate under medical or mental health professional standards.” In an obvious abuse of religious exemption standards they claim that a mere referral to emergency contraception or related would offend their personal religious beliefs, nor should they have to notify federal agency personnel who could instead do the referral. Essentially they want to stand in the way of unaccompanied immigrant girls and prevent them from getting the pregnancy services they chose. This, while taking public funds for a public program to care for these girls. The USCCB had also wanted a federal grant to provide services to victims of human trafficking, while similarly denying the women and girls access to a full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care. Thankfully the group did not get the grant. The details of this most recent religious exemption abuse are found in an article at Think Progress:

Estimates suggest that anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of migrant women and girls are raped on their journey as they travel across the southern United States border. But many of the organizations that provide medical care to these migrants are refusing to provide emergency contraception or make pregnancy-related referrals to girls who have been raped. What’s more, the religious organizations that operate these groups are opposing a move by the Obama administration to address epidemic rape of young unaccompanied migrants by requiring contraceptive care. During last year’s border surge, a total of 68,541 unaccompanied children streamed through the southern Texas border from Latin America. Almost half of the children apprehended by border patrol agents were girls. Rape and sexual assault are “major motivating factors” for why girls flee their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, a Women’s Refugee Commission report found last October. The report stated that children on the run who traveled with smuggling guides known as coyotes reported sexual abuse, including one child who “told of how women and girls were kept in a separate room and could be heard screaming while being raped.” And even once in the United States, some migrants alleged that sexual assault (especially among LGBT detaineestook place in detentionsometimes by guards. Those children may not receive adequate care after border patrol agents pass them onto group shelter homes, the majority of which are operated by faith-based organizations such as the Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS), which received $190 million in a single grant last year. But it was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which received roughly $22.1 million, that sent a letter last week objecting to a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that would require federally funded organizations that house unaccompanied migrant children to provide victims of sexual abuse with “unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment, crisis intervention services, emergency contraception, and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, in accordance with professionally accepted standards of care, where appropriate under medical or mental health professional standards.” The rule includes a clause that would allow faith-based organizations to offer external pregnancy-related referrals for unaccompanied children… Read more here

Posted in Catholic, children, churches, el salvadoran, faith-based, Guatemalan, honduran, ORR, safety, teenagers, teens, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, unaccompanied minors, USCCB, women, World Relief, young adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

IRC head: Gulf countries must do more for Syrian refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 22, 2015

Syrian_refugees

David Miliband the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee is calling on Arabian Gulf states to begin accepting Syrian refugees for resettlement. The UN has said 130,000 Syrians need to be resettled every year outside of the country. Miliband said there needs to be fair allocation among countries and that so far Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are bearing the brunt of refugees. I suspect he’s also referring to countries outside the region that have accepted Syrians for resettlement, although far short of the 120,000 per year. Countried accepting Syrian refugees include: Bulgaria 5000, Germany 18,000, Sweden 14,700 [U.S. News & World Report], and the US goal through fy2016 is 10,000. An article in the UAE’s The National explains:

DUBAI // A former British foreign minister has called on Arabian Gulf states to lead the world and take in Syrian refugees fleeing the country.

David Miliband, who is now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a charity committed to helping the most vulnerable, said the West had so far been poor at setting a good example on this front so there is a chance for Gulf countries to show their humanitarian prowess.

The world beyond Syria needs to take its fair share of people leaving the country,” he said in an interview with The National. “Western countries have not been good at this so far.

One of the things the Gulf could do is make a point here. The UN has said 130,000 Syrians need to be resettled every year outside of the country.

That needs a fair allocation. At the moment that isn’t happening and, symbolically, that is damaging.

It is very important that there remains an openness in the Gulf to help people who are trying to escape from their suffering. It can’t just be Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are bearing the brunt of refugees.”…

Mr Miliband was speaking ahead of a meeting in the UAE to encourage further financial support to help the relief effort for displaced Syrians…

The UN has said 250,000 people in besieged parts of Syria are completely cut off from aid, and six million are in need of humanitarian help…

The UAE has the chance to be a leader in the humanitarian field in this area,” he said…

The opportunity for the UAE, the state and the public, is to now make a difference. The needs are much greater than the traditional international system can meet.

Different parts of the Gulf have made their financial contributions but, overall, it has to rise, and also [increase] from the West.”

Mr Miliband said it is important that Gulf countries play a central role in the politics of Syria, as it is in their own interest… Read more here

Posted in IRC, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 18, 2015

running

A refugee program, called the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program, or CAM, is a new immigration initiative that aims to prevent minors from risking their lives to cross the border illegally, as thousands have done over the past few years. Most were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, nations plagued by high murder rates, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. Under the new program minors facing persecution back home may qualify for refugee status, putting them on a path to a green card, resettlement aid, and eventual US citizenship. Minors who do not meet the strict legal standard for a refugee, but are still at risk, will be considered for “parole,” an immigration status that lets them come to the US but does not offer the other benefits. The program aims to create a legal process for these minors to immigrate, and to curb the growing influence of human traffickers. An article in the Boston Globe explains the details of the program:

Federal officials are rolling out a new refugee program that could reunite thousands of children facing danger in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador with their immigrant parents in the United States.

Officials announced the program with little fanfare in November, and it has taken time for the word to spread. Thousands of immigrants who have had temporary legal status for many years could be eligible to apply for the first time to bring their children to America.

The program could expand if President Obama wins a court battle over separate initiatives to grant deportation reprieves to millions more. Those initiatives suffered a setback Monday when a federal judge imposed a temporary injunction on the programs…

…officials say the new program aims to prevent children from risking their lives to cross the border illegally, as thousands did last summer.

We’ve established this program, frankly, it’s two-fold, to prevent children from taking this journey and to prevent the exploitation of their families by traffickers,” said Lawrence Bartlett, director of refugee admissions at the State Department, which is running the program with Homeland Security. “We think the smuggling networks are fairly robust and it’s to really guard against that and to really protect these kids.”

Under the new program, which started Dec. 1, children facing persecution back home may qualify for refugee status, putting them on a path to a green card, resettlement aid, and later, US citizenship. Children who fall short of the strict legal standard for a refugee, but are still at risk, will be considered for “parole,” an immigration status that lets them come to America but does not provide the other benefits.

In some cases, federal officials said, the spouses and grandchildren of immigrants with temporary status could be considered for admission if they face harm, though the program primarily is for unmarried children under 21…

The refugee program, called the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program, or CAM, is one of a battery of controversial new immigration initiatives the White House unveiled in recent months after the House refused to take up a bill on illegal immigration…

The number of minors taken into federal custody after crossing the border has roughly doubled each of the last two years — from 13,625 to 24,688, and to 57,496 last fiscal year, according to the Administration for Children and Families, which processes the children.

Most were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, nations plagued by high murder rates, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. And most were released to parents or sponsors in the United States, including 1,500 children in Massachusetts from October 2013 through the end of last year…

Vice President Joe Biden announced the refugee program at a summit of Central American presidents in Washington on Nov. 14 — and federal officials say it is part of a broader multimillion-dollar effort to stem violence and human smuggling in the region. There is no end date, although it will be evaluated every year.

Under the rules, parents from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras can apply for the refugee program if they have lawful status, which includes immigrants — such as Montiel — who have Temporary Protected Status, a status granted to tens of thousands of Hondurans and Salvadorans whose homelands were engulfed in natural disasters…

The refugee application is free, but parents can only apply for their children through nearly 350 approved refugee resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Service, or Ascentria Care Alliance, formerly known as Lutheran Social Services of New England.

After parents apply, children will undergo interviews with US Citizenship and Immigration officers in their homelands to ascertain whether they qualify as refugees — those who fear persecution because of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or because they are in a particular group, such as gay people.

Children also must undergo DNA testing to prove their relationship to their parents.

Federal officials declined to estimate how many parents are expected to apply… Read more here

Posted in asylees, children, el salvadoran, gangs, Guatemalan, honduran, Obama administration, safety, teens, TPS (Temporary Protected Status), unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

US to take in 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees this year

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 28, 2015

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The US is set to take in 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. The goal through fy2016 is 10,000. Only 323 Syrians were resettled in the U.S. in 2014, 36 in 2013, but Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the State Department said the United Nations only recently has sought to resettle larger numbers. An article in USAtoday about refugees in Kentucky has the details:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Twenty-one Syrian refugees will arrive here in the next two weeks, a figure expected to increase as the U.S. begins to take in an expanded number of refugees fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war.

The refugees, from four families who fled to Jordan and Egypt, are part of a larger U.S. resettlement effort expected to bring as many as 10,000 Syrians to cities across the USA through fiscal year 2016 alone, according to the U.S. State Department…

he United States has accepted few Syrian refugees in recent years, sparking criticism that it was slow to respond. But Bartlett said the United Nations only recently has sought to resettle larger numbers. The State Department is now reviewing nearly 10,000 referrals from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

By contrast, 323 Syrians were resettled in the U.S. in 2014, 36 in 2013.

The U.N. is asking an array of nations to take in 100,000 refugees through 2016, Bartlett said, and the U.S. will be a significant player.

Although private resettlement agencies will determine where they go, last year some arrived in California, Illinois and Texas. [Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the State Department] predicted resettlements would reach 1,000 to 2,000 through this fiscal year and grow more quickly in the subsequent 12 months.

While no ceiling on Syrians has been set, the U.S. has a cap of 70,000 total global refugees a year… Read more here

Posted in Kentucky, State Department, Syrian, UN | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

World Food Program for now resumes food assistance to Syrian refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 3, 2015

government-helping-citizen-water-food-stock-supplyAlthough this blog mainly covers the US domestic refugee resettlement program, we occasionally cover related issues. Of extreme urgency in recent months has been food aid to Syrian refugees. In December the World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to cut all food assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a shortage of funds. After a 72-hour fund raising campaign involving an unprecedented social media campaign the WFP was able to resume assistance about a week later. Top donors included: Qatar (US$2 million), Saudi Arabia (US$52 million), Belgium (US$138,000),  European Union (US$6.2 million), Germany (US$5.4 million), Ireland (US$1.1 million), Netherlands (US$7.5 million), Norway (US$10.2 million), and Switzerland (US$2.1 million), plus US$1.8 million from individuals and private sector donors. Anyone wishing to donate can use the link on the WFP Syria Emergency web page. The funds were said to cover the month of December, so ongoing donations are desperately needed. They need US$1.5 billion in 2015 to feed over 6.5 million Syrians displaced inside their country and sheltering in neighboring countries. About 3 million Syrian refugees are now registered in neighboring countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey), with the WFP assisting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees in these countries. Inside Syria WFP is also managing to provide food assistance to around 4 million people every month.

Posted in Syrian, UNHCR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative Canadian government deemphasizes need and vulnerability in pushing Syrian Muslims to the bottom of the list

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 18, 2014

List-512The conservative-led Canadian federal government has announced that it will be “prioritizing” ethnic and religious minorities while resettling refugees from Syria. Apparently Muslim Syrian refugees will be pushed to the bottom or off the list entirely of refugees to be resettled. The troubling move is being condemned by Canadian Muslim and non-Muslim religious leaders. If adopted, it will contradict with the United Nation policies that include helping “the most vulnerable, no matter their religious back ground”. According to the UN policies, families led by women, torture victims and those with serious medical conditions must be resettled. An article at OnIslam.net explains the issue:

OTTAWA – Reports that Canadian government will be prioritizing religious minorities while resettling Syrian refugees has triggered a fierce criticism, accusing it of abandoning thousands of vulnerable Muslim refugees.

“We are deeply troubled by this report and we hope the federal government can provide answers,” Ihsaan Gardee, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) executive director, said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Friday, December 12.

“It is inconceivable that our government would suggest implementing a policy that creates a two-tier refugee system in which vulnerable people are assessed based on their personal religious beliefs rather than on their needs.”

Gardee’s comments followed reports that Canada is set to accept more Syrian refugees “only from the religious minorities”.

The new refugees’ trend, if adopted, will contradict with the United Nation policies that include helping “the most vulnerable, no matter their religious back ground”.

Families led by women, torture victims and those with serious medical conditions must be resettled, according to the UN policies.

Although Canada has previously accepted to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees, only 457 had arrived by mid-November, according to statistics tabled in the House of Commons…

Religious minorities make up an important and vibrant part of Syria’s culture, “and no one is suggesting that non-Muslims should not be protected,” Syrian Canadian Council spokesman Faisal Alazem stated.

“But you treat people based on the need and on the vulnerability…

Critics of the new policies blamed the conservative government for “breaking form the international community”, blowing away the traditions of the European country.

“It’s unprecedented and going in a terrible direction,” agreed Liberal immigration critic John McCallum.

“I find this shocking. To impose a religious filter is just not right.”

A similar criticism was shared by Canadian non-Muslim religious leaders.

“All of our religions teach the fundamental worth of every human being,” reads a forthcoming statement which has already been signed by several concerned faith groups and organizations including the United Church, the Presbyterian World Service and Development, and the Jewish Refugee Action Network.

“A person should never be excluded from refugee protection or resettlement on the basis of his or her religion. Refugees must be selected for resettlement based on need.”… Read more here

Posted in Canadian refugee resettlement pgrm, Islamic, right-wing, Syrian, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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