…Ahmed settled with his wife and two children in Manchester, New Hampshire, one of 50 Iraqi families in a city that over the last decade has become home to more than 2,100 refugees from all over the world.
Now economic pressures are forcing city officials to question whether Manchester can continue to be a destination city for refugees.
The year after Ahmed arrived, city officials here began debating whether to impose a moratorium on the arrival of more refugees. At issue was a financial question: In the midst of a recession, could Manchester afford to continue to absorb 300 people a year into its population of about 100,000 people?…
…[Democratic Alderman Patrick Long] together with Mayor Ted Gatsas, was a force behind the calls for a moratorium on refugees, which resulted in a compromise to reduce the number of refugees allowed in the city from 300 down to 200 in 2012…
…Long says the city does not have the infrastructure or social services to tend to those communities’ needs.
“I found myself putting out little fires every day,” he explained. “Somebody needs a ride to the doctor, somebody needs food, somebody needs a place to live.”…
…“My objective is for the immigrants to thrive,” he said. “I’m angry that the finances to help the new arrivals are not being used efficiently.”
Critics like Long say resettlement agencies, which receive federal funds to bring refugees here, only follow up with refugees for a few months and do not get involved in long term issues such as quality housing.
As an example, he cited a bedbug infestation that affected a refugee community living in an apartment complex. “We emptied all the apartments, people moved temporarily, we cleaned,” he said. “But the institute never showed up,” he said, referring to the non-profit organization the International Institute of New England, which works with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to bring refugees to Manchester.
Carolyn Benedict-Drew, CEO of the International Institute of New England, said…that the city’s responsibility is to take care of housing for everyone, regardless of where they come from.
Further, she said, the city hasn’t provided her agency with any hard facts about the costs it takes to care for the refugees.
She denies claims that refugees burden the city with health care needs and social services, and said this is something the political right is trying to make an issue out of….
… Tika Acharya, a volunteer at the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, a coalition that helps new arrivals…opposes the moratorium, saying that it doesn’t make sense from a practical point of view.
“If they send my sister to another city, I would go get her and bring her here,” he said.
Geraldine Kirega, the director of the Women for Women Coalition and a refugee from Tanzania…said that the city’s argument for a moratorium may have been well intended, but they didn’t follow up on their good intentions.
“They said they wanted to have better housing and resources to improve the situation. They haven’t taken action,” she said. “They haven’t shown what they’ve done to improve.”…
…Eva Castillo, who works for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition in Manchester, says she understands where the city is coming from.
“This is not about immigration,” said Castillo, who is originally from Venezuela. “It is about resources.”
Castillo, who says she is the only advocate of her kind in the city who is working to bring awareness about refugee issues to Anglos, says she is overwhelmed by the community’s needs.
But perceptions about refugees and immigrants in the city are also clouded by bias and fear, she adds.
“The amount of services they use is minimal but there’s the idea that they use more of them,” she said. “It is not racism. It’s ignorance.”
The economic downturn and the difficulty finding jobs have exacerbated negative perceptions of refugees here—despite the fact that Manchester’s unemployment rate (4.5 percent) is lower than the national average (8.5 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Unfortunately, people are facing economic pressures. Those who live here and are having a hard time finding a job see all these new people arrive and they have the wrong impression that refugees come here and get free houses and cars,” Castillo said…
…For Ahmed and his family, the U.S. economic recession is a daily reality they understand all too well.
The entire family arrived in Manchester on the middle of the winter to piercingly cold weather they had never experienced before and without proper clothes. “We didn’t know where to go,” said Ahmed. “We didn’t know how to call Iraq. We had no TV, no Internet.”
They said that for 10 days, they felt completely isolated…
…Haytham Aukira, another refugee from Iraq who has been in the United States for more than 11 years, has become one of Ahmed’s good friends….
…he says he doesn’t disagree with having a moratorium on refugees…
…“The city should be able to say how many people can come, not Washington, D.C.,” Aukira said.
For people like Benedict-Drew, that would be like opening a Pandora’s box that could spread to the rest of the country fueled by some groups’ anti-immigrant sentiment… Read more here