Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

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 »

IRC’s Bob Carey takes top post of his agency’s government regulator, ORR

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 17, 2015

revolving-doorOn April 9 the HHS/ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) sent out a notice announcing the latest revolution of the revolving door between the private sector (resettlement contractors) and government agencies, such as the ORR and the State Department’s Office of Admissions — a new director for the ORR, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) vice president of resettlement and migration policy Bob Carey. Resettlement contractors in the US resettlement program such as the IRC, request and receive millions in federal government contracts to resettle refugees. In his role as IRC’s vice president Mr. Carey continually advocated for increased public funding for domestic refugee resettlement – a program to which contractors such as the IRC are supposedly required (an unenforced requirement) to bring significant private funding. Wouldn’t that mean, therefore, that they should be focusing on that task instead of spending significant time, energy and resources continually asking for increased government funding?

But this is not surprising in our government refugee resettlement program. With the contractors in charge of the government refugee agencies’ leadership we have a situation of regulatory capture. The regulated have moved in and taken over their government agency regulators. This is good for the private sector, but a pernicious arrangement for everyone else — mainly the refugees and the public. With the regulators taken out, the mice are free to play.

One of the bad effects is that these private groups are now able under-perform, even violate government contracts at will (the weak contracts they helped write), and face no consequences. An example is found in a question I submitted for the ORR’s interview with former IRC head George Rupp (a question which the ORR not surprisingly decided not to use):

“A 2007 State Department PRM monitoring report for the IRC office in Baltimore indicates that the IRC and another resettlement contractor frequently placed refugees into an East Baltimore apartment complex that had evidence of questionable maintenance and security standards (housing that is safe, sanitary, and in good repair is supposedly a State Department refugee contract requirement). Monitors also noted that the IRC had failed to give a three-member Meskhetian Turk refugee family a crib and other supplies for their infant son. I note, again, that these items are listed as “minimum” required items in the State Department contracts. Why does the IRC fail to meet so-called “minimum requirements” of their obligations to refugees in the public/private partnership?”

I wrote to Mr. Carey in a letter dated June 6, 2005 to ask about the IRC’s problems in refugee resettlement. Mr. Carey did not respond.

Posted in funding, IRC, ORR | 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 »

IRC head: Gulf countries must do more for Syrian refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 22, 2015

Syrian_refugees

David Miliband the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee is calling on Arabian Gulf states to begin accepting Syrian refugees for resettlement. The UN has said 130,000 Syrians need to be resettled every year outside of the country. Miliband said there needs to be fair allocation among countries and that so far Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are bearing the brunt of refugees. I suspect he’s also referring to countries outside the region that have accepted Syrians for resettlement, although far short of the 120,000 per year. Countried accepting Syrian refugees include: Bulgaria 5000, Germany 18,000, Sweden 14,700 [U.S. News & World Report], and the US goal through fy2016 is 10,000. An article in the UAE’s The National explains:

DUBAI // A former British foreign minister has called on Arabian Gulf states to lead the world and take in Syrian refugees fleeing the country.

David Miliband, who is now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a charity committed to helping the most vulnerable, said the West had so far been poor at setting a good example on this front so there is a chance for Gulf countries to show their humanitarian prowess.

The world beyond Syria needs to take its fair share of people leaving the country,” he said in an interview with The National. “Western countries have not been good at this so far.

One of the things the Gulf could do is make a point here. The UN has said 130,000 Syrians need to be resettled every year outside of the country.

That needs a fair allocation. At the moment that isn’t happening and, symbolically, that is damaging.

It is very important that there remains an openness in the Gulf to help people who are trying to escape from their suffering. It can’t just be Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are bearing the brunt of refugees.”…

Mr Miliband was speaking ahead of a meeting in the UAE to encourage further financial support to help the relief effort for displaced Syrians…

The UN has said 250,000 people in besieged parts of Syria are completely cut off from aid, and six million are in need of humanitarian help…

The UAE has the chance to be a leader in the humanitarian field in this area,” he said…

The opportunity for the UAE, the state and the public, is to now make a difference. The needs are much greater than the traditional international system can meet.

Different parts of the Gulf have made their financial contributions but, overall, it has to rise, and also [increase] from the West.”

Mr Miliband said it is important that Gulf countries play a central role in the politics of Syria, as it is in their own interest… Read more here

Posted in IRC, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Right-wing spreads false impressions of migrants bringing diseases

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 11, 2015

Pinnochio

Right wing politicians and media commentators are helping to carry on a long tradition of falsely blaming immigrants for the spread of diseases in the US. Baseless claims have included the odd assertion that migrants who cross the southwestern border of the United States being a reason in the latest measles outbreak. Not sure why they think illegal aliens are so well paid that they could take their families to Disneyland. Another claim was that unaccompanied migrant children from Central America may be carrying “deadly diseases,” including the Ebola virus, despite the fact that there is no Ebola virus in Central America. In 2006, Pat Buchanan claimed “illegal aliens” were responsible for bedbug infestations in “26 states”, though health officials attributed the increase in bedbugs to widespread use of baits instead of insecticide sprays for pest control. An article at MSNBC has the details:

…There is no evidence to support any of this, but it is part of a long and ugly pattern of demagoguery…

Jamelle Bouie had a great piece a while back highlighting the sad American tradition: Chinese immigrants in 1900 were accused of carrying the bubonic plague; Irish immigrants were accused of bringing cholera to the United States; Italians were blamed for polio; and Jews were blamed for Tuberculosis…

Today, anti-immigrant protesters hold signs asking Washington to “Save our children from diseases,” while right-wing lawmakers fret about disease screening and spread fears of infection and contamination. In doing so, both draw from a long history of ugly nativism and prejudice dressed as concern for public health. And you don’t have to be a liberal, or support immigration reform, to see that it’s a disgrace.

As we’re seeing this week, the regrettable tradition continues… Read more here

The right-wing has also been trying to blame border crossing migrants for diseases eradicated here by vaccines, claiming that the migrants are non-vaccinated. Yet 93 percent of kids in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are vaccinated against measles compared to 92 percent American kids. The Texas Observer has a recent article that does a fact check on the issue:

…Fox News commentator Cal Thomas asks, for example, if “the unaccompanied minors pouring over the border…have brought with them proof of vaccination?” Thomas accuses the border-crossers of harboring vaccine-preventable diseases such as “mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria.”

Before demonizing undocumented children, we should look at the facts: The vast majority of Central Americans are vaccinated against all these diseases. Governments concerned about health, and good parents investing in their kids, have made Central American kids better-vaccinated than Texan kids. We fear them not because they are actually sick, but because of powerful anti-immigration narratives that link foreigners to disease.

Consider, for example, Guatemala. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Guatemalan kids are more likely than Texans to be immunized for most infectious diseases. Guatemala has universal health care. Vaccines are 100 percent funded by the government.

By comparison, one in six kids in Texas is uninsured, and even insured families often must pay for vaccination. That means that many Texas kids fall behind on vaccinations, or miss them altogether when their family can’t afford a doctor’s visit. Other families refuse vaccination.

Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet, a Fox News commentator and former director of the ultra-conservative political group Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, writes in the McAllen Monitor that measles is among the “diseases the United States had controlled or virtually eradicated” that are “carried across the border by this tsunami of illegals.”

Fact check: UNICEF reports that 93 percent of kids in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are vaccinated against measles. That’s better than American kids (92 percent).

Furthermore, it’s absurd to claim that the U.S. has eradicated measles while Central America has not. In fact, measles outbreaks have resurged in some American cities. By contrast, according to the World Health Organization, neither Guatemala nor Honduras has had a reported case of measles since 1990…

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Latino men who came to work rebuilding the city were accused of spreading infectious diseases such as chlamydia and HIV.

The targeting of vulnerable outsiders whenever disease breaks out is even older than this country. Historian Barbara Tuchman has described how outbreaks of plague in Europe would lead to pogroms. The lynchings of Jews, she writes “began in 1348 on the heels of the first plague deaths.” When we blame immigrants for infectious disease, we participate in a nasty—and deadly—old tradition…Read more here

Posted in CDC, health, right-wing, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

REMINDER: Monday, Feb 9 Deadline for White House Call for Ideas

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 7, 2015

175px-US-WhiteHouse-Logo.svg

Monday, Feb 9 is the deadline to submit to the White House ideas to help shape the federal refugee integration strategy. Below are excerpts taken from the White House Office of the Press Secretary

In November 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to fix our broken immigration system. As part of these actions, the President created a White House Task Force on New Americans.

Civic integration provides security in rights and liberties. Economic integration empowers self-sufficiency and allows new Americans to give back to their communities and contribute to economic growth. English language acquisition allows employment and career advancement along with active civic participation.

The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

Please send your ideas and examples to NewAmericans@who.eop.gov by Monday, February 9, 2015.

Posted in Obama administration, reform | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 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 »

 
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