Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Iraqi’ Category

Exploited airport workers finally get paid sick leave

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 7, 2012

A custodian at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport earns a whopping starting wage of about $7.25 an hour. The custodians, mostly refugees from such countries as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, and immigrants from Latin America, also do not receive basic benefits such as paid sick leave. Over a year ago GCA Services Inc. of Cleveland, the company contracted by the city to provide custodial services, intimidated and fired four workers when they attempted to unionize. Now the City has decided that this exploitation of workers, though money-saving, may not have been in its best interests, and will begin providing basic benefits. An article in The Republic explains:

Phoenix has decided that its next contractor for keeping Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport clean must provide competitive pay and benefits to their workers, including paid sick leave.

The Aviation Department on Wednesday recommended making pay and benefits, rather than price, a priority in its upcoming call for bids…

A custodian at the airport earns a starting wage of about $7.25 an hour, the workers have said. Custodians do not receive the same pay and benefits as some other unionized employees at the airport, such as restaurant workers. For example, the custodians have not had paid sick leave, which is offered to restaurant workers.

The staff recommendation comes months after the National Labor Relations Board found the department’s big custodial contractor, GCA Services Inc. of Cleveland, had intimidated Phoenix airport custodians and interfered with their right to unionize.

GCA denied the allegations but said it would fulfill the terms of the board’s consent order. The order forced the company to rehire and provide back pay to four workers it had fired, allegedly for attempts to unionize, and to refrain from other actions that workers found threatening…

…Most of the GCA custodians are refugees and immigrants from Latin American and such countries as Afghanistan, Burma and Somalia. UFCW representatives said immigrants and refugees are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they’re unsure of their rights and have few options for work… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Burma/Myanmar, employment abuses, employment/jobs for refugees, Iranian, Iraqi, Phoenix, Somali, Sudanese | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

On day of travel to US Iraqi refugee family told to sign for a $4,500 travel loan

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 10, 2012

An Iraqi refugee family now living in Idaho says that they were told, on the day before travel to the US for resettlement, that they should come in to “sign” for tickets. At the signing they claim they were then told to sign for a $4,500 travel loan. I wrote to the State Department about my concerns about the refugee Travel Loan Program program in 2005, but the agency’s refugee office did not make any major changes until now. In March the State Department announced that it was planning significant changes to the refugee program beginning in October (the beginning of the next fiscal year). A State Department spokeswoman says monthly loan payments will be capped according to income, loan agreements will be translated into nearly a dozen languages, and there will be a new informational website explaining the travel loan program. An article at StateImpact explains:

…[Qusay Alani] says he left Iraq after he was jailed for refusing to join Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. In Jordan, he says, he lived like a fugitive. As more and more Iraqis fled there, they were less and less welcome. Alani began the process of applying for refugee status. He didn’t aim to come to the U.S. He and his family simply needed to go somewhere. “Any country, I go to,” he says. “The only thing is just to protect my family. Because, you know, if I go back to Iraq I might get killed, you know. So – do my family.”

In 2009, after years of waiting, Alani and his family learned they were bound for the United States. This is where the travel loan comes in.

They gave us like a month prior,” Alani explains.  “They told us – in a month ahead, you’re going to travel.  Then a day before, they told us to come and sign for your tickets.”

Alani says that’s when he found out he would have to sign a loan for more than $4,500…

…there is an effort underway to make changes, says Deborah Sisbarro, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

We are, in fact, in the process of making improvements in the way the travel loan program works, yes,” she says.

Sisbarro says there will be a new informational website explaining the travel loan program. She says monthly loan payments will be capped according to income, and loan agreements will be translated into nearly a dozen languages. She says the changes should be in place by next year…

…In reporting this story, StateImpact requested interviews with current and former State Department officials and the official who oversees the travel loan program.  None was available for an interview… Read more here

In the article the IRC’s Jim Carey complains about the travel loan program, yet his organization offers no private partner solution to the problem. Couldn’t the nine national resettlement agencies offer to set up a private endowment to help the refugees with part of the cost of travel?

Posted in Idaho, Iraqi, Travel Loan Program | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees being attacked at residential complex in Lansing, MI since November

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 26, 2012

Car break-ins, ’30-plus’ broken windows, an old man getting punched in the face, a young woman…kicked’, and theft.” Those are some of the incidents at Summer Place Townhomes in Lansing, MI that refugees say have happened to them since November. The refugees, from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq, say they have been the target of a group of 10 and 20 local teenagers. Some of the refugees find it hard to sleep at night, while others are taking turns staying up at night to watch for trouble. The Lansing Police Department doesn’t seem to know much about what’s happening though refugees have reported the ongoing crimes. An article at Lansing City Pulse has the story:

…Bo is a refugee from Burma and has lived in Summer Place Townhomes for about seven years…

…since November, Bo and his family haven’t been sleeping due to a combination of fear and duty — they take turns staying up all night to keep intruders away. Several other neighbors in Summer Place report similar situations.

It’s been quiet, safe, secure,” Bo said, referring to the years leading up to November. Then he rattles off nearly daily instances when he and his neighborhood have been the target of a group of local teenagers, between 10 and 20 of them: car break-ins, “30-plus” broken windows, an old man getting punched in the face, a young woman “about my age kicked by those people,” theft.

So this is why you stand guard overnight. “Yeah, it’s very dangerous. We all worry. You gotta watch out and stay awake.”

Bo fears the worst: that the harassment will turn deadly. At one point, he armed himself with a pellet gun, which he said was subsequently taken by the Lansing Police Department. “We are not shooting for anything. I believe I’m doing the right thing. It’s like I’m security, protecting all people, not just the Burmese.”

As I walk through the neighborhood Saturday before meeting Bo, refugees from Iraq and Bhutan tell similar stories. 

Dozens of young children — from toddlers to teenagers — were playing in the street and courtyards. Adults gathered around, keeping an eye on them. The day before, the group came and broke a car window, said Ammar Mahdi, a 41-year-old refugee from Iraq. Mahdi’s English was broken and, at times, his 10-year-old son, Yousif, acted as a translator.

We need help. It’s every day,” Mahdi said. “I am not sleeping.”..

…Devi Ghimisey is from Bhutan and about the same age as Mahdi. He lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years before coming to the U.S. three years ago.

They come while we’re sleeping. Kids playing football — they come and beat them up. They come and throw rocks,” Ghimisey said.

Recently, the group stole Mohammed Mohahamed’s children’s three bikes. Two weeks ago, they broke his neighbor’s house windows. Mohahamed is 33 and also came from Iraq. “I want to change this trouble,” he said. “I want the street here safe.”…

While this has been going on, arrests have been scarce…neighbors say the response from the Lansing Police Department has been inadequate…

…neighbors say they feel discouraged from calling the police because the trouble keeps happening — even after reports…

…Alfonso Salas, who owns Lansing Athletics sporting goods store…says that while it’s a rough neighborhood to begin with, he thinks it’s racially charged. And he warns that something needs to change, or “it’s gonna get bad.”

Because of the color of their skin and who they are, they get beat up on,” he said. “I feel for them… Read more here

Posted in abuse, Burma/Myanmar, children, hate crimes, housing, Iraqi, Lansing, Nepali Bhutanese, police, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Our bloated security bureaucracy – do overlapping layers, redundancies prevent us from helping our friends around the world?

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 22, 2012

Is the reason that we’re not meeting our moral obligation to resettle Iraqis who risked their lives to help us that our security bureaucracy has so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system? In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, one government agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks. One refugee security check will often expire before the next is completed. Trudy Rubin, an Opinion Columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, gives her take on what is going on:

…Consider this: In 2008, Congress mandated 25,000 special immigrant visas (known as SIVs) for Iraqis who helped us over a period of five years; fewer than 4,500 have been issued. According to State Department figures, 719 were granted in fiscal 2011 and 569 during the first six months of fiscal 2012…

…Many Iraqis who helped Americans have chosen to apply for U.S. visas through another…refugee program. As of last July, there were 39,000 Iraqis on that waiting list. In the first six months of fiscal 2012, only 2,500 were admitted.

And most applicants have been waiting one to three years.

So what’s gone wrong? Why can’t we meet our moral obligation to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

My answer: We have a security bureaucracy that’s gone bonkers. In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, we’ve set up so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system. “One agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks,” says Carey. “Often one check will expire before the next is completed.”

Take the case of A.M., who worked for the U.S. Army from 2009-11. He’s been waiting more than a year for his security clearance. Because of the wait, his U.S. Embassy-required medical exam “expired” and he had to take it again, paying another $400. Meanwhile, he is living in hiding, under death threat, afraid even to visit his wife and year-old daughter…

Or take A.L., who has been waiting for more than three years, took his medical exam three times, and fingerprints twice. The embassy gave him a date of a year ago, on which he was supposed to travel, but on that day he was told more security checks were needed. He had sold his business and his car, and is running out of money.

We are threatened with death every moment,” he wrote me. “Is this what we deserve because we worked with U.S. forces. Please. Please. Help us.”

That will require the White House to tame the Kafkaesque Homeland Security bureaucracy, something that still hasn’t happened and probably needs presidential intervention. In the meantime, thousands of Iraqis suffer in limbo and America’s credibility takes a further beating.

If we don’t [move on this], it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of people around the world to work with our missions,” Blinken admitted… Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, IRC, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Clues don’t necessarily point to hate crime in killing of Iraqi refugee

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 6, 2012

Although police have not finished an investigation of the killing of an Iraqi woman in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on March 21, new clues seem to point away from the suggestion by a threatening note left at the crime scene that this was a hate crime. Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, resettled to the US in the 1990’s. An article at Reuters points to new clues linked to the crime:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Court papers filed by police in the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman near San Diego cite her divorce plans and daughter’s apparent suicide attempt last year, but do not point to further evidence that the murder was a hate crime.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found bludgeoned in her rented home in a refugee community of the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on March 21 and died of her injuries several days later, after doctors removed her from life support.

A threatening note found at the scene has given rise to suggestions that Alawadi may have been targeted because of her ethnicity, though police have cautioned against drawing that conclusion during the investigation.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed last week and obtained by Reuters on Thursday, a relative of Alawadi told detectives the victim had “been planning on divorcing her husband and moving to the state of Texas.” The documents show that divorce papers were found in her car.

The whereabouts of the victim’s husband, Kassim Alhimidi, at the time of the incident, also had not been confirmed, police said in the court papers… Read more here 

***UPDATE*** — Husband arrested in murder ~~ NBC San Diego

Posted in hate crimes, Iraqi, Islamic, San Diego | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stoppage In Security Clearances For Iraqi Refugees & SIVs Caused By New Homeland Security Software

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 23, 2012

It turns out that the year-long near stoppage in security clearances for Special Immigrant Visa applicants  (now beginning to wane) and Iraqi refugees was due in part to a software snafu at the US Department of Homeland Security. The other part of the problem that we knew about was the huge backlog of security clearance reviews caused when new requirements mandated older security clearances being redone, including those for the 58,000 Iraqi refugees already in the US. A newspaper column in the Greensboro News-Record by the founding director of the Center for New North Carolinians mentions the software issue:

Freedom.” “Security.” “Education.”

The first three volunteers wrote on the board. Our interpreter explained that they were listing the advantages of living in America. The list grew.

Then they listed the disadvantages. “Separated from family members,” “loss of culture,” “learning the language,” “loss of job skills certifications.” Then these Iraqi refugees who fled to Jordan discussed their answers.

The lesson was taught by a teacher working for the International Organization for Migration. IOM contracts with the U.S. State Department to provide cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees accepted for resettlement in America. The objective was to develop realistic expectations about America and develop analytical and networking skills in decision-making. The class was conducted in Arabic because the U.S. no longer pays for English language training.

I was leading a dozen U.S. refugee professionals and researchers from half a dozen states for the Association of Refugee Service Professionals. We were studying refugee issues. My daughter, who works with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, had arranged meetings for us. The refugees were stuck. Though approved for resettlement, they can’t get security clearances because new software designed for the Department of Homeland Security has problemsRead more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Greensboro, security/terrorism, IOM | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Iraqi Refugee With Job Lined Up Cannot Enroll Children In School Without Permanent Residence, Cannot Rent Apartment If Unemployed

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 22, 2012

An Iraqi mother has finally found refugee in the bay area, and must now deal with problems faced by poor Americans. She has a job lined up, but can’t enroll her children in school without a permanent residence. She can’t get an apartment, however, without having a job. A story at NBC Bay Area explains her predicament:

On the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an Iraqi mother is desperately eager for her American dream to begin in Santa Clara.

Taghreed Alazzawi worked in Baghdad’s Green Zone as an interpreter for the Texas-based contractor KBR. That work is something she says put a target on her head.

In 2008, she arrived in Santa Clara as a refugee. In the years since, she became a legal resident with a green card, and returned to Iraq for her two sons who were abandoned by their father.

Now, she and her 11- and 12-year-old boys are staying in a $50-a-night motel room — they sleep on the bed, she sleeps on the floor — because she hasn’t found a permanent home.

“If you want to rent an apartment, they want to see check stubs. Being unemployed right now, no, this is going to be almost impossible finding an apartment,” said Alazzawi.

Alazzawi has a job lined up, but can’t work until the children are enrolled in school and they have a permanent residence… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, employment/jobs for refugees, Iraqi, Santa Rosa, schools | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Special Immigrant Visa Stoppage Beginning To End

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 17, 2012

The near stoppage in the federal government’s issuing of Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis last year seems to finally be ending. At least 715 special immigrant visas have been issued since October, which is more than all the SIVs issued in the last fiscal year. Resettlement of the broader Iraqi refugee community, however, is still at a near standstill. An article at USA Today explains:

…The Obama administration says it has made tweaks in how it is vetting Iraqis applying to a U.S. government resettlement program, leading to more former military interpreters and U.S. embassy workers being resettled in the USA in the first half of fiscal year 2012 than all of last year.

At least 715 special immigrant visas have been issued since October, surpassing the 706 visas that were issued for all of FY 2011, according to State Department data provided to USA TODAY. The special immigrant visa [SIV] is available to Iraqis that had worked for the U.S. government during the war, and had come under serious threat because they assisted America…

…White House and agency officials won’t talk about the additional security measures they’ve put in place or what changes they’ve recently made to speed up the vetting in recent months…

…Top administration officials—including White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough—have dedicated themselves to fixing the dramatic slowdown in resettlement, Blinken said.

“We owe these people,” Blinken said. “If we don’t deal with this problem, it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of people around the world to work with us, to cooperate with our missions.”

While resettlement of Iraqis eligible for the SIV program has picked up over the last six months, the State Department is still far behind the pace it set in 2009 and 2010, when 2,843 and 2,042 SIVs were issued in the respective years.

Resettlement of the broader Iraqi refugee community—which includes many former helpers to the U.S. military and diplomats–has grinded to a near halt. Only 1,861 refugees have been resettled over the last five months compared to 9,388 in FY 2011 and 18,000 in FY 2010, according to the State Department… Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, Obama administration, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Senior Official Says Intelligence Indicates Security Threat Much Broader Than 2 Iraqi Refugees in KY

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 5, 2012

A senior Obama administration official says that intelligence indicates the security threat is much broader than the two Iraqi refugees arrested in May in Bowling Green, Ky., and accused of plotting to send weapons and cash to al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Obama administration is still trying to come up with a solution that balances national security with its moral obligation to assist Iraqis who cannot safely live in their country. The UNHCR thinks the security net is set too wide. An article in USA Today discusses the issue:

…WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has dramatically slowed the resettlement of Iraqi refugees — including former U.S. military translators and embassy workers — in the midst of growing concerns about al-Qaeda’s potential ties with some asylum seekers, an administration official says.

Two Iraqi refugees who resettled in the United States in 2009 were arrested in May in Bowling Green, Ky., and are accused of plotting to send weapons and cash to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, says that intelligence indicates the threat is much broader than the two refugees…

…“That threat stream led us to re-examine our vetting process for this population and really all of the refugee population,” the official said…

…In September, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel that security checks have been expanded and that more than 57,000 who were already in the United States have been revetted…

…The details of what the enhanced security checks entail are not shared publicly, but refugee information is likely being checked against security, forensic and intelligence databases that were not among those covered by the other security checks, according to the UNHCR…

…”Of course we support the U.S. and all countries having security checks,” UNHCR spokeswoman Charity Tooze said. “It seems that in this instance the net is so wide a huge amount of people who we don’t see as a security threat are getting caught in it.”…

…The Obama administration has held several interagency meetings on the issue since last summer and is trying to come up with a solution that balances national security with its moral obligation to assist Iraqis who cannot safely live in their country, administration officials say…Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, Obama administration, security/terrorism, UNHCR | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Veterans Support Vandalized Lowell Restaurant Run By Iraqi Refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 25, 2012

A New Hampshire man drove a 20-pound rock through the window of an Iraqi restaurant in downtown Lowell, Mass. owned and run by Iraqi refugees. The owner of the restaurant is an Iraqi refugee who was an influential Iraqi television journalist targeted abroad for violence for “telling the truth’’ about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A veterans group joined by Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy held a show of support in front of the restaurant as they took turns sitting down inside to eat meals. An article in the Lowell Sun covers the story:

LOWELL — An area veterans group pledged to fill every seat in Babylon, a downtown Iraqi restaurant where owners feared hatred drove a man to throw a 20-pound rock through a window last Wednesday.

Instead, those veterans filled every seat twice.

Lowell police said they identified the man who threw the stone, and that he confessed…

…The suspect, a New Hampshire man who will not be identified until he is arraigned, will be summonsed…

…to court to face a charge of breaking glass in a building, a misdemeanor.

Patrick Scanlon, a Vietnam veteran and coordinator of Veterans for Peace who organized the show of support, voiced skepticism that hate wasn’t involved, but said it was nonetheless important to show support for the family that had been hit hard by fear.

Scanlon was joined at 25 Merrimack St. by veterans of the Iraq war, such as former Army Sgt. Rachel McNeill, of Allston, who served from 2002 to 2010 and spent a year in Iraq serving on a gun truck that escorted convoys, and Chris Borden, of Chelmsford, who continues to serve in the Army Reserves after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan…

…The veterans, joined by the likes of Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy, held flags and signs in front of the restaurant as they took turns sitting down inside to eat meals.

Owner Leyla Al-Zubaydi and her father Ahmed Al-Zubaidi said their family was terrified the vandalism was fueled by hate… Read more here

A Boston Globe article gives details about the Iraqi refugees who own the restaurant:

LOWELL – Coming home from work one night, Ahmad Al Zubaidi was attacked by seven men in dark clothing. They savagely beat the influential Iraqi television journalist and left him for dead on the streets of Uzbekistan.

Targeted for “telling the truth’’ about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Iraq native spent a month in a hospital recovering. The message was unmistakable: Leave or be killed.

Eight years later, half a world away, the 57-year-old recounts the tale in the colorful confines of Babylon Restaurant, his six-month-old establishment in downtown Lowell… Read more here

Posted in hate crimes, International Institute of Lowell, Iraqi, Lowell | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 311 other followers