Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘States’ Category

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 »

Most elderly refugees stay home without exercising; don’t know existing service systems

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 26, 2015

elderly_symbolThere is a serious problem in the US refugee program with elderly refugees becoming isolated soon after resettlement, eventually falling into ill health and ending up in emergency rooms while never having accessed preventative medical care. The causes include adult children being away from home most of the day working and long hours in transportation to and from work, as well as lack of English (and other refugee languages) and cultural knowledge that would allow successful integration into resettlement communities. Elderly refugees are similar to elderly people everywhere, finding it extremely difficult to learn a new language. Most are at a point in life when any change is difficult to cope with. In the US most do not understand how our systems work, including medical care systems. Not understanding how to partake in preventative care, many do not get any exercise which can lead to depression and a host of other physical health ailments. A new program in Colorado created by the Colorado Refugee Service Program and the Denver Regional Council of Governments is directly addressing this problem. An article in the Aurora Sentinel explains the program:

AURORA | Htoo Hay, 68, came to Colorado four years ago as a Burmese refugee…

Hay was one of five refugee seniors who swayed to the left and right, clapped and grinned as he took part in an hourlong Zumba class at the Aurora Center for Active Adults. The class, which started at the center a month ago, is held every Friday afternoon.

The class is part of a pilot program for refugee seniors that is a partnership between the Colorado Refugee Service Program and the Denver Regional Council of Governments. It’s open to any refugee resident in Aurora who is over 60 and wants to participate, and is funded through a $40,000 federal grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement…

Clapping and shuffling next to Hay is Ka Paw Htoo, a community navigator with the Colorado African Organization who provided Htoo Hay’s transportation and helped him sign up for the class as part of the program. She is also a Burmese immigrant who lives in Aurora.

“Most of our old people, they’re staying home and without the exercise,” she said. “That’s why I want my community to come here and then (exercise) when they get older. Then you feel better.”…

The refugee senior program at Aurora’s senior center is not just a weekly Zumba class, according to Jill Eelkema, a counselor with DRCOG’s Area Agency on Aging, but also a way to introduce refugee residents to city resources.
“We see a lot of elder refugees who don’t utilize services until they’re in a dire situation and they end up in the emergency room, mostly because they don’t know the existing service systems that are available to support them in preventative care,” she said. “By starting this program, we decrease isolation and increase community connections.”
Through the program, refugee seniors, most of whom hail from Bhutan, Burma, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, are provided with free meals, transportation, a weight room, wellness clinics, and English as a second language classes…
For more information on the program, call 303-480-5634 or visit drcog.org/programs/area-agency-aging/elder-refugee-program Read more here

Posted in aurora, Colorado, Colorado Refugee Service Program, elderly refugees, health, language, mental health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Athens has panhandlers, can’t take humanitarian refugees, says Mayor

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 5, 2015

panhandling

According to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia Mayor Nancy Denson, the City has “panhandlers and people sleeping outside”, so sorry, they can’t help humanitarian program refugees. This emphasis on panhandlers shows the Mayor as client of the retail business community. Does people sleeping outside show a lack of adequate shelter space? If not, and people chose to sleep outside, then how does that burden the community so much that they can’t help refugees? Local clergy disagree and have now invited the IRC back to Athens to reconsider opening a local refugee resettlement office after earlier opposition from the Mayor and Governor. Refugees who have migrated to Athens on their own via “secondary migration” are already living in the community. An article in Athens Banner-Herald gives an update to the story:

Less than four months after the U.S. State Department rejected a plan from a nonprofit refugee resettlement group to set up a program in Athens, a small group of Athens area clergy have begun work aimed at convincing the federal agency to reconsider.

Those clergy and others met for 90 minutes Wednesday at Athens’ Covenant Presbyterian Church with J.D. McCrary, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta. McCrary, who had spearheaded the IRC’s unsuccessful effort to have a resettlement program designed to serve 150 refugees — people fleeing persecution and atrocities, as opposed to people simply wanting to come into the United States — established in Athens, was invited back to the community by some of those ministers.

The local churches represented at Wednesday’s meeting, in addition to Covenant Presbyterian, were Oconee Street United Methodist, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Christ Community Church, Commerce Presbyterian, Colbert United Methodist and Comer United Methodist.

McCrary told the group the IRC effort in Athens was rejected by the State Department as a result of what the department saw as significant local political opposition to the proposal…

McCrary told the slightly more than one dozen people gathered at Covenant Presbyterian that the agency has no current plans to submit another proposal for State Department review. If, however, some evidence of community support were to surface, the IRC might consider making another proposal next year, McCrary said, or it could come back to the community following the next election cycle if it appeared that political opposition might have softened.

In a Friday interview, [Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson] said her position on the IRC proposal hadn’t changed.

My responsibility is to take care of the people who are already here,” she said.

It’s purely a capacity issue,” Denson added, noting that Athens is already dealing with “panhandlers and people sleeping outside… Read more here

Posted in Georgia, IRC, refugee, secondary migration, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Tucson face underemployment, prejudice and racism from the community

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 1, 2015

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A recent newspaper article explores the plight of refugees placed for resettlement in Tucson, Arizona. It seems that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is placing refugee professionals such as mechanical engineers and doctors in entry-level jobs such as dish washing. While I don’t wish to be cynical I do wish to have some healthy skepticism here. Are there really no jobs in Tucson, even lower level ones, in which employers are looking for people with engineering or medical knowledge? It seems that the IRC has grown accustomed to using the least effort in placing refugees in jobs, without taking advantage of other options. The state of Idaho created a program to help these refugees, and help Idaho, rather than waste these professionals’ knowledge and experience. The article also discusses a case in which a refugee man was riding his bike home from work at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up. The IRC relocated him from his home for fear of persecution. An article in The Arizona Daily Wildcat explains:

…Caitlin Reinhard, senior employment specialist for the International Rescue Committee, in Tucson [spoke] about the issues refugees face in the community. Regardless of professional and educational background, the first job that many refugees obtain are minimum wage, entry-level jobs. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a mechanical engineer to be placed in Tucson and work as a dishwasher.

Reinhard emphasized the reluctance of employers to hire overqualified employees. For example, a refugee who was a doctor in their home country would have more trouble finding employment than a refugee with a grade-school level of education…

In conjunction with employment issues…Tucson refugees face prejudice and racism from the community in which they are working to become members. Reinhard spoke of a client who worked the night shift at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Golf Resort and Spa. On his way home from work, the man rode his bike to the intersection of Alvernon Way and Grant Road at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up.

We were more outraged than he was,” Reinhard said.

The  man was relocated from his home for fear of persecution. He did not harbor negative feelings toward Americans. However, because of our cultural biases, our community threatened his safety… Read more here

Posted in abuse, Arizona, employment/jobs for refugees, hate crimes, IRC, professionals, safety | 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 »

Syrian refugee in Houston – Cockroaches seem to pour from the walls

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 21, 2015

contract

Apparently YMCA International remains in violation of the State Department refugee resettlement contract and no one seems to care. In 2008 during a State Department inspection monitors noted “…All refugee homes inspected had significant roach and/or mice infestation.” Now, a newspaper article reports that a Syrian refugee family resettled in Houston by this resettlement agency is living in an apartment practically overrun by cockroaches. The State Department contract explicitly states that resettlement “Housing should be safe, sanitary, and in good repair.” I don’t think insect infestation would qualify as sanitary. An article in the Houston Chronicle explains:

The sparse two-bedroom apartment in southwest Houston is a far cry from the sprawling home Chujaa Masre owned in Homs. Cockroaches seem to pour out of the walls, appearing to him almost as resistant to defeat as the Syrian army in his war-torn country.

His wife, horrified, at first declared they were going home, never mind the bombs and airstrikes that have ravaged their nation, killing what human rights groups estimate to be about 220,000 people in four years. Ever since fleeing Homs at the beginning of the military’s siege in 2011…

Masre, who was paired with the YMCA, said his assistance runs out in February…

By now, Masre has finessed his skill for eradicating pests. He’s learned to block up holes and fill in cracks to keep out mice and discovered the array of commercial options killing cockroaches. They take up an entire rack in his kitchen.

“But still they come,” he sighed… Read more here

Posted in housing, Houston, rats and roaches, State Department, YMCA International | 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 blaming the other resettlement agency in town to defend her own agency, one has to admire her for her honesty. I think 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 completely 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 »

 
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