Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Refugee teen bullied in Syracuse

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 1, 2013


A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo reports that when she arrived in Syracuse for resettlement she was bullied in high school. She fell back on her survival skills from back home and eventually summoned the courage to stand up for herself. A resettlement agency in the city also reports that it can no longer find refugees steady work “en masse” with manufacturing employers who have now left the area (of course the State Department refugee contract individualized case management requirement should not have allowed such an approach to begin with). WRVO Public Media has the story:

…For Lorina Mpinga, who was a teenager when she arrived from D.R.C, figuring out high school without knowing English proved to be a massive challenge.

Mpinga was bullied her first year in high school. She had a hard time standing up for herself at first without English language skills, but eventually got the courage.

“I have to make sure I tell them and let them know who I am, not a little scared girl and I don’t want to live a life of being scared of going to school every day,” she said.

Asked whether or not being bullied as a teenager put a damper on coming here, Mpinga quickly dismisses the idea.

“I know, from before, that you always have to stand up for yourself” and being a teenager anywhere in the world is tough, she added…

City officials recognize the refugee community as a source of new population and key to revitalizing the Northside, but for now it’s still a working class neighborhood that has its fair share of crime and vacancy…

the factory jobs that used to be open to immigrants with little or no English are gone.

…the factory jobs that used to be open to immigrants with little or no English are gone.

“There are no places like G.E. anymore, there are no places where you could move up doing a manual labor type job [and] all you need is training basically,” Susan Ohlsen from InterFaith Works said.

Job training programs run through various non-profits help new Americans get jobs in health care or construction, but finding refugees steady work en masse is a challenge, according to Ohslen… Read more here

Posted in Congolese, employment services, Interfaith Works, Interfaith Works, schools, Syracuse, teens | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another apartment fire – family of 11 in Utica, NY displaced

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 11, 2013

BldgFireA refugee family resettled in 2006 apparently by the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees have been displaced after their apartment caught fire. One 4-year-old child suffered burns to her hands and knees, and lung damage from smoke inhalation. The fire started in the kitchen while the mother was at the market. The mother was unable to communicate with emergency workers due to lack of English. An article in the Union Observer-Dispatch explains:

UTICA — On Feb. 22, Johara Abdi came home to a nightmare.

Her Adrean Terrace apartment was on fire with her 4-year-old daughter Halima Haji still inside.

And the Somali-Bantu refugee didn’t know enough English to communicate with emergency responders.

I went to go shopping. When I get here, I see a lot of fire,” Abdi said through an interpreter. “I couldn’t (communicate). It was very difficult life for me.”

Emergencies, such as fires, are terrible situations for anyone, especially for refugees and immigrants who speak little or no English.

Abdi’s oldest daughter was able to get the other children out of the apartment that night, but Halima was asleep upstairs. By the time they realized it, the fire and smoke prevented them from going back inside…

Agencies, such as the…the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, work with emergency responders to help make families feel at ease and, if possible, get a professionally trained interpreter.

Abdi and her nine children, ages 2 to 17, were displaced from the five-bedroom apartment at 64 W. Adrean Terrace, by the fire, which originated in the kitchen… Read more here

Posted in apartment building fires, children, housing, language, Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Somali Bantu, Utica | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

More resettlement agencies feel effects of federal funding cuts

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 5, 2013


Due to sequestration (Congress couldn’t agree on a federal budget, initiating an automatic 5 percent spending cut) more resettlement agencies have felt the effects of the federal funding cuts. The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica, NY lost funding for domestic violence and interpretation services. The Utica Observer-Dispatch has more:

A lack of federal funding is causing cuts at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

Two directors in charge of the center’s domestic violence and Compass Cultural Institute interpretation programs were laid off about a month ago, along with a full-time administrator and an interpreter, said Shelly Callahan, the center’s executive director.

Though a managing director of Compass is taking over for her predecessor, Callahan said the domestic violence program essentially is gone…

“It’s just generally frustrating,” said Callahan, who pointed to federal sequestration cuts. “These are people that have expertise in what they’re doing and they’re really good at their job.”

Tracy Davis, director of finance and administration, said about 60 percent of the center’s budget comes from federal funding…

In general, the center’s budget has decreased. This year’s budget – the fiscal year runs from March 1 through Feb. 28 – is $2.3 million, down from $2.6 million last year…

Roberto Ponce, director of communications for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, offered this statement about centers nationwide seeing cuts on the federal level: “We would assume that it would have to do with the sequestration. We’re seeing the results of that.”

To fill in the service-related gaps, Callahan said the center will continue to do less with more and still refer refugees and immigrants to other organizations in the area, such as the YMCA for domestic violence victims. She said, however, those groups do not have the same cultural competency as the center does… Read more here

Posted in funding, language interpretation/translation, lack of, Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Utica | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees removed from Atlanta-bound plane over smell

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 29, 2013

Refufees kicked off

A refugee family from the Central African republic were removed from an Atlanta-bound American Eagle flight two weeks ago due to their smell. The family landed in New York City from their long overseas flight, and for reasons unexplained, World Relief immediately placed them on the flight to Atlanta. It would make sense to place the refugees in a hotel overnight to rest and that is what often happens. It would also have given the refugees a chance to shower and wash up before continuing their long journey. Atlanta’s Channel 2 WSB-TV has a print article and video news story detailing what happened:

ATLANTA — A local woman is upset that a refugee family from Africa was kicked off a flight to Atlanta because of the way they smelled…

Once on board, passengers on American Eagle Flight 4657 sat for more than an hour before the family was escorted off the place because they smelled too badly.

“After complaints from other customers aboard the aircraft… We make these decisions with the comfort of our customers and crew members in mind, and always with careful consideration,” airline spokesman Matt Miller told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas via email…

A representative for the resettlement group World Relief told Thomas the family is from the Central African Republic and they came seeking asylum…

The family was booked on another flight for the following day and is now in metro Atlanta trying to adjust to their new life. Read more here

Posted in Atlanta, Central African Republic, cultural adjustment, NYC, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

NY creates office to help New Americans

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 27, 2013


New York State is opening a statewide office that will focus on refugees and other immigrants – the Office for New Americans. The office will focus on basic services new immigrants need and will also include assistance for starting their own businesses. An article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle explains:

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday an Office for New Americans, the first statewide office to focus on the state’s immigrants.

The office will include 27 neighborhood-based opportunity centers to help immigrants learn English, prepare for citizenship and enter the workforce, particularly to start their own businesses. They will be housed at community-based offices, including in Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Ithaca and White Plains.

By establishing the Office for New Americans, we are helping our state live up to the promise of the Lady in our Harbor and ensure that New York remains a land of opportunity for all,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Immigration to New York from foreign countries reached 1.2 million people in the 1990s, but dropped to 895,150 new immigrants between 2000 and 2010, a report in 2011 from the Empire Center for New York State Policy found. As of 2010, New York’s foreign-born population was about 21 percent of the total 19.4 million people, the report said. Only California had more immigrants, at 27 percent of its population… Read more here

Posted in economic self-sufficiency, employment/jobs for refugees, Rochester | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Buffalo cop goes out of his way to assist refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 23, 2012

An article in the Buffalo News explains how a police officer in that city has taken the initiative to help refugees locally. Each year he joins a clothing drive for refugees, and has even traveled to Burma/Myanmar to see how the refugees from that country live. The article also mentions that refugees in Buffalo are living in code-breaking bungalows (rentals?) and that when they arrive they do not seem to get cold-weather clothing (the State Department contract supposedly requires resettlement agencies to give refugees all needed clothing).

From The Buffalo News:

He got the call a few years ago. A woman was wandering, lost, on Buffalo’s West Side. She did not speak English. The encounter sparked Mike Long’s journey from his South Buffalo roots, more deeply into the streets he patrols, and finally to the Burmese countryside.

A Google search led the Buffalo cop to Jericho Road Ministries, the refugee help center. Within minutes, the lost woman in his patrol car was flanked by translators fluent in Burundi and Swahili. They made sense of the woman’s words. Long drove her home – and knew he needed to better understand her world.

“You never want to impose your beliefs on a people, or feel like you know what is best for them,” he said Friday. “I thought I could better serve the refugees here if I saw where they came from.”

In the spirit of helping, the 37-year-old cop took a reverse-immigrant journey. A friend of a friend had started an orphanage in the Burmese countryside. A few months ago, Long joined a caravan bringing medicine, Crocs and clothes to 35 kids…

…Many refugees who resettle on the West Side – mostly Burmese and brightly garbed Somalis – live in code-busting bungalows…

[Long] also knows what he sees every winter: Recent arrivals, shoulders hunched against the freeze, wearing nothing warmer than a long-sleeved shirt. It is why Long, three years ago, jumped headlong into Jericho Road’s annual clothing drive (… Read more here

Posted in Buffalo, Burma/Myanmar, clothes, housing, housing, substandard, police | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Refugees in Rochester, NY targets of persistent crime

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 26, 2012

Perpetrators have been targeting Burmese refugees in Rochester, NY. The crimes involve muggings and robberies. The crimes are rarely reported due to the refugees’ mistrust of police. A Sudanese refugee was shot to death last may. WUHF-Fox has an article and video report:

Tonight, we bring you the story of a local group of refugees and their struggle to make a home in Rochester.

News 8 has learned members of the Burmese community who’ve settled on Rochester’s Northwest side have been the targets of persistent crime.

We’re talking about crimes like muggings and robberies, most of which go unreported…

An estimated 800 Burmese refugees live in Rochester many near Lake and Dewey Avenues…

It’s a common problem according to Khadin Lee.

As the Refugee Outreach Worker at Lake Avenue Baptist Church, she works closely with many refugees, and has seen the trend increase over the last year.

Lee believes the Burmese are targeted.

“You can see them as different. Our people, they’ve only been here for a short time so you can see them in their traditional costume.”

Virtually no effort has been made to search for, or question these suspects.

That’s because these crimes hardly ever get reported.

In fact, the Rochester Police Department tells me the last crime like this on record, was over a year ago.

Its not surprising to Lee. She added “Those are the people that are corrupted back home, so when they see people in uniform they dont trust them.”

She is working with the community to increase trust in the police, and teach them how to use 911 to get immediate help… Read more here 

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, dangerous neighborhoods, police, Rochester, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Nickel City Smiler” documentary film to show at University of Rochester

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 13, 2012

The Nickel City Smiler documentary film will be shown at the University of Rochester on Thursday, Sept. 27th. A notice at the Brighton-Pittsford Post announces the showing:

Rochester, N.Y.A public showing of the film “Nickel City Smiler” will be offered through the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, 252 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 in Hoyt Auditorium on River Campus…

…”Nickel City Smiler” is a documentary film about refugee resettlement in Buffalo.

A panel discussion, moderated by Mary Jane Curry, will follow the film, delving deeper into the themes and issues raised in “Nickel City Smiler.”… Read more here

Posted in Buffalo, Karenni, neglect, Rochester | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Some advice to health care workers with refugee patients

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 19, 2012

An article in The Observer Dispatch offers some advice from a refugee health fair in Utica, New York:

…Jean Skahan, manager of trainings and programs at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees…[offers] some advice to health care workers with refugee patients:

Throw away the three-page medical history. Most refugees never have received western health care and probably won’t understand half the terms on the history, even with an interpreter’s help.

Don’t assume that refugees understand how bodies work.

When it comes to cancer patients, “encourage and support hope,” she said. Many refugee cultures assume that cancer means certain, imminent death.

Don’t assume you can gauge pain by looking at someone’s face. Some cultures tend not to show pain in front of strangers.

Don’t assume a refugee knows what to do with a prescription. She’s found them in all kinds of strange places in refugee apartments.

Never assume that refugees can’t learn. “These are tough, resilient people,” Skahan said.

Learn about the culture in question. Some nursery nurses told Skahan they worried about some refugee mothers who don’t try to get out of bed after giving birth. Skahan said she looked into it and found out that in their culture, new mothers rest for 40 days while female relatives handle all the work… Read more here

Posted in best practices, health, Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Utica | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

New York state has dire shortage of lawyers qualified to practice immigration law

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 2, 2012

New York state has both a “dire” shortage of lawyers who are qualified to practice immigration law as well as inadequate safeguards against incompetent lawyers. An article at WNYC Radio in New York City explains:

There is a “crisis” in the quality and availability of immigration lawyers in the state, the New York State Bar Association says in a new report.

The study flags a “dire” shortage of lawyers who are qualified to practice immigration law and inadequate safeguards against incompetent lawyers…

…“Since there’s a shortage of lawyers willing to provide pro-bono representation for these low income clients, there have been instances where non-profits will have a case worker without a law degree help represent these clients.”

And that well intentioned, but usually unqualified, assistance, she said, frequently leads to serious mistakes. Rizzo mentioned one instance in which a caseworker without a law degree helped a Burmese immigrant she later represented. The caseworker filled out an immigration form incorrectly, and as a result, Rizzo explained, the federal government suspected fraud and denied visas to the immigrant’s wife and child.

His wife and child eventually were permitted to come into the country, but only after she spent considerable time rectifying the caseworker’s mistakes…

…According to the lawyers who drafted the report, immigrants in the state often do not understand how to acquire legal representation and do not have the ability to represent themselves. Language problems only further exacerbate these representation problems.

The lawyers note that the shortage is felt most heavily in the areas of the state where immigration assistance is needed the most.

“Particularly in the central part of New York state, especially where there are large majorities of migrant farm workers and other immigrants, such as refugees who are resettling in various parts of upstate New York, we don’t have an availability of attorneys that specialize in immigration law to represent these individuals,” said Macri… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, immigration services, New York | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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