Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

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: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Rochester, NY still under attack

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 4, 2014


It’s now been almost two years since this blog reported on attacks occurring on refugees in Rochester, NY.  The US refugee program has not solved the problem and continues to resettle refugees to this known dangerous site.  The State Department’s resettlement office has made clear that it does not consider crime rates when deciding where to resettle this vulnerable group (refugees).  In 2012 Burmese refugees were under attack in the neighborhoods where the refugee program resettled them, and someone shot to death a Sudanese refugee.  Last month an article reported that Nepali-Bhutanese refugees were under repeated attack as well.  Another article in the Democrat & Chronicle documents the latest incidents:

Locked inside their house in northwest Rochester, the Nepalese family felt under siege.

Outside, a crowd of young men — 20 to 25 in number — broke windows to the home and threatened to storm inside, according to members of the family. Moments before, several young men had followed and jumped a Nepalese teen. That scuffle then escalated into the menacing gang…

It wasn’t until the police came that the crowd scattered. This incident, in daylight hours Thursday, is another in a growing list of attacks against South Asian refugee families who have been settled in areas of northwest Rochester near Jones Square…
As law enforcement officials decide how to curb the intimidation and violence, the refugees themselves say they feel ignored and left to fend for themselves…

Many of the refugees are hesitant to talk to police, and, when they do, they have not been able to provide much information about their attackers. Typically, the offenders have been young African-American men, creating a volatile situation in which the refugees feel at risk in the very neighborhoods where they have been resettled…

If deemed a “hate crime” — namely if evidence exists that the refugees are targeted because of their nationality and not simply because they may be seen as vulnerable — then there could be grounds for federal prosecutions…

Bill Wischmeyer, an advocate for the refugee community, said there were two other attacks on refugees this week, one on children playing soccer. Wischmeyer has been regularly contacting police, hoping to head off future violence.

Some of the refugees see the constant harassment as the opening salvos in a battle. Their supporters, meanwhile, try to assure them that the police will find means to protect them and help them find safety in their new home.

Wischmeyer came to the Parkway home on Thursday afternoon after the gang had left.

“I came over and it looked like a war zone,” he said. Read more here

Posted in abuse, crime, dangerous neighborhoods, elderly refugees, gangs, hate crimes, Nepali Bhutanese, Office of Admissions, police, Rochester, State Department, teenagers, teens | 2 Comments »

Refugees preyed upon on Rochester NY streets

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 8, 2014


Refugees in Rochester NY say they are fed up with being targeted for crime on the city’s streets. Ironically, many of these refugees do not report the crimes to police. Reportedly, the assaults, robberies and verbal abuse against local Nepali-Bhutanese and other refugees are being committed by young men from the African-American community. There is some debate whether these attacks are hate crimes or if the young men are targeting the victims due to their vulnerability as immigrants. An article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle examines the issue:

Are the assaults, robberies and verbal abuse against local Bhutanese, Nepali and other refugees by young men from the African-American community hate crimes or crimes of economics and opportunity?

Perhaps a little of both.

Former Rochester police chief James Sheppard, who now works as a mentor to young African-American men whose lives have gone down paths of crime, downplayed tagging the crimes as “hate crimes” — defined generally as a criminal offense motivated by bias against race, religion, gender or other characteristics. He said the perpetrators are more often young black men who don’t feel good about themselves and who prey on the vulnerable for economic reasons…

Those who have been attacked say the abuse is often accompanied by comments such as “go back to your own country,” or “you don’t belong here.”…

Members of that community say they often do not call police because they either fear retaliation from the accused, they don’t think police will be effective at solving the problem, or they are simply more inclined just accept the abuse… Read more here

Posted in crime, dangerous neighborhoods, gangs, hate crimes, Nepali Bhutanese, police, Rochester, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »


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