Friends of Refugees

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Archive for the ‘Iraqi’ Category

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, Greensboro, IOM, Iraqi, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | 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 »

Focusing On Physical Symptoms When Helping Refugees With PTSD

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 21, 2012

Refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) need specialized and competent care at mental health centers to get back on their feet (why the federal refugee resettlement program doesn’t mandate mental health screening for refugees makes little sense to me). A specialist at a center in Kent, in Washington state, has found that focusing on a patient’s physical symptoms is useful in helping refugee clients. An article at KUOW tells the story of an Iraqi refugee struggling to survive with PTSD (he didn’t get a proper referral until he tried to jump off a roof):

The Kuba family lives in a small ground–floor apartment in Kent…

…But there’s a lot more space here than they had a few weeks ago, when they were living in their car.

Amer Kuba: “I leave my home. And all my stuff in the street cause I don’t have money for truck.”

This is Amer Kuba. He is a refugee from Iraq. At his first apartment, rent was $735. But he only got $560 in refugee cash assistance. It caught up with him, and he was evicted.

Kuba: “I take just my clothes and I sleep in my car almost three month. I drive in night, and my family sleep in car.”

…Amer, his pregnant wife and their young son came to Seattle in April 2010.

Amer says he didn’t leave the house for the first six months. He was afraid al–Qaida would find him here.

Kuba: “And I have psychological problem. And I can’t speak with anybody and confuse all the time and I still inside my house, I don’t go outside because I afraid.”…

…Beth Farmer runs the International Counseling Service, a community mental health center. Almost all of her clientele are refugees from Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Farmer: “If you are already having post–traumatic stress disorder symptoms, you are really poised to fall through the cracks.”

That’s because there is no standardized way to make sure refugees with severe mental health problems are funneled into treatment as soon as they arrive.

Amer didn’t get sent to Beth’s clinic until he attempted suicide. He tried to jump off the roof of the Department of Social and Health Services building in Downtown Seattle.

Overall, Beth says refugees are 10 times more likely to have PTSD than the general population. But it can be hard to get patients like Amer into treatment.

Many refugees with PTSD share his fear of going outside. And that’s only amplified by how hard it can be to find your way around a new city, especially if you don’t have a car or speak the language.

Even the idea of mental health treatment can be scary.

Farmer: “For a long time, people didn’t think that they could address mental health issues because the stigma in the refugee community was so high.”

Getting counseling or psychiatric treatment might be seen as selfish or wimpy, or even dangerous. For some refugees, mental hospitals are a place where political dissidents are sent.

Beth has found that focusing on physical symptoms gets the best results. She starts by asking a patient how they’re sleeping… Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, Kent, PTSD | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reduction of Manchester Family Reunion Cases, Why Didn’t International Institute Help With Problems?

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 11, 2012

Yesterday New Hampshire had its Republican primary, which focused more attention on Manchester’s refugee controversy. Its seems that the International Institute of New England views any and all criticism of its performance as the work of “the political right” (even though a democratic Alderman spearheaded the criticism). On the other side we have people falsely blaming refugees for economic woes. It’s clear that this combination of ignorance and polarization serves no one. A moratorium or reduction in family reunion cases also doesn’t make sense, as refugee families will find another way to reunite. Here are snippets from an interesting, albeit long, article in New American Media:

…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

Posted in employment/jobs for refugees, housing, housing, substandard, Iraqi, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Nepali Bhutanese, New Hampshire, right-wing, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Republicans and President Obama Playing Hot Potato with Iraqi Refugees and SIVs?

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 7, 2012

Trudy Rubin writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer speculates about the failure of the US government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us. She thinks that the Obama administration – and the Republicans – have decided not to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year. The supposed reason for the near halt in security clearances is the two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky accused of having terrorist connections. Yet, these two never worked for Americans and those who did, and who are now stuck, went through many security checks before getting their jobs.

Last week, I spoke on the PBS “NewsHour” about Iraqis who worked for our civilians and military before we left the country – and who now face death threats because we betrayed them…

…How can we get the U.S. government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

I’m ashamed to admit that the U.S. government has abandoned these people. No one seems eager to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year.

President Obama has failed to keep his 2007 campaign pledge to rescue these Iraqis. A group of concerned senators, mostly Democrats, including Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, has made inquiries, but gotten no answers from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Nor has a peep been heard on behalf of the [Iraqi interpreters] from Republican senators who backed our war in Iraq.

State Department officials say they’re working hard to expedite the visa process. Yet the number of visas for Iraqis who helped us slowed to a trickle just when they were most urgently needed, as U.S. troops quit Iraq…

Official figures show that 39,000 Iraqis (including family members) are in the pipeline in the Direct Access program for Iraqis who worked with us. Only 153 of these visas were issued in December. There are about 15,000 (not including family) in the pipeline for the Special Immigrant Visa program. Only 50 SIVs were issued last month.

The supposed reason for the freeze is new security regulations imposed after two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky were accused of having terrorist connections. But these bad apples never worked for Americans. Those who did went through numerous security checks before getting their jobs… Read more here

Posted in Bowling Green, Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, Kentucky, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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