Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

USCRI’s Bowling Green International Center claims they do a great job, refugees disagree

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 3, 2010

An article in the Bowling Green Daily-News comments on local refugee resettlement and Senator Lugar’s recent refugee resettlement report. According to the article refugees make up about 10% of Bowling Green’s population. That seems difficult to believe.

The article also states that the local Health Department makes refugees pay for their own vaccinations at their first health screening. How is that possible? Does that mean that refugees who cannot afford vaccinations don’t get them?

The Warren County Health Department is where most refugees get their first medical treatment. They get vaccinations if needed, and are screened for tuberculosis.

“They have to pay out of pocket for those immunizations, which is tough for some,” said Rebecca Tyree, a registered nurse and center coordinator for the health departmenthere

This makes absolutely no sense, because the ORR reimburses local health departments for refugee medical screening costs. According to ORR’s website:

The Cash and Medical Assistance (CMA) Program is part of the Division of Refugee Assistance and provides reimbursement to States and alternative refugee assistance programs for 100 percent of …Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)… CMA also reimburses States for medical screening costs through local public health clinics or physicians so that contagious diseases and medical conditions that may be a public health concern or a barrier to refugees’ economic self-sufficiency are identified and treated. here.

In the article, James Robinson, executive director of the USCRI affiliate, Bowling Green International Center (IC), describes the work his agency does as an “attempt” not to leave refugees high and dry. That would seem to instill somewhat less than total confidence in the quality of his agency’s services. But, of course last year and earlier this year we heard from a friend of the local Karenni refugees, Cindy Florez, who described the horribly filthy apartments where the IC had placed the refugees. She said the apartments looked like they have never been cleaned in years before the refugees’ arrival, and teemed with cockroaches and rodents. (See pictures of broken fire alarms, filthy walls, filthy counter tops, broken screens) She said that the furniture the International Center gave the refugees was stuff that Goodwill would have thrown out.

Refugees placed into apartments with filthy walls

Refugees tried to thread up apartment’s torn screens

Cindy Florez says her Halloween weekend visit to a new refugee family she has befriended in Bowling Green, Ky., was scary.

The family of four Karenni refugees from Myanmar had no bedsheets, and shared one small bath towel, one plate, two coffee mugs and two spoons, she said. The carpets and walls were grimy. She found mouse droppings and cockroaches.

After fumigating, “it took us well over an hour cleaning up roaches,” Florez said.

James Robinson, director of the agency that resettles refugees in Bowling Green, concedes some refugees have cockroaches — but he points out that families don’t always wrap garbage and keep food off counters. Landlords assure the agency that they spray for pests monthly, he added.

And, Robinson retorts, Florez’ allegations that families are left without basic household supplies are “totally untrue.”

The Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance Association, also known as the International Center, has resettled about 600 refugees from Myanmar in the past year. Caseworkers inspect and furnish apartments, then photograph each family with the initial food and household supplies they receive, Robinson said.

Refugees sometimes move all their beds into one room, placing box springs and mattresses directly on the floor, he said. They get rid of the bed frames, so they may throw or give away other supplies as well, he theorizes.

They are free people,” Robinson said. “They can do what they want.” (here On the map click on Kentucky)

stained kitchen counters

It’s funny that Mr. Robinson came up with this type of defense about refugees throwing away bed-frames. In the photos that Cindy Florez took you can see that the mattresses are still propped up on bed-frames, here. He also talks about refugees leaving out food, except that these refugees had just recently arrived when Cindy found them. She said the apartments looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in years. I guess Mr. Robinson thinks its his job just to rationalize away his agency’s failures to fulfill its contractual responsibilities. See videos herehere and here. Cindy also said that refugee children missed vaccinations because the IC did not give rides to the medical clinic that they had promised. She also reported that the refugees’ landlord had her thrown off the apartment property by the police when she brought donations to the refugees. She said these landlords where working in close coordination with the International Center. IC caseworkers also showed up on a Sunday on a holiday weekend to watch (intimidate?) the refugees as they spoke to police who were bringing donated coats. Conditions were so bad that at least ten Karenni refugees quickly out-migrated to Minnesota, just to get away from the IC.

Kentucky’s state refugee coordinator Becky Jordan was most unhelpful when we brought these concerns to her attention earlier this year. She told us that she wasn’t going to communicate with us because we dared to ask her if she was concerned about the refugees. It turned out that she actually works for another refugee resettlement contractor in Kentucky, Catholic Charities. She has her office at Catholic Charities and receives a paycheck from them, while supposedly acting as their oversight agent (does that make any sense?). She even told us she was accountable to Catholic Charities and not to us.

That’s how the system works folks.


broken smoke alarm

another broken smoke alarm

filthy walls

17 Responses to “USCRI’s Bowling Green International Center claims they do a great job, refugees disagree”

  1. James said

    I am the husband of someone who works with refugees. My spouse is not directly associated with the Bowling Green refuge center. From what she and others tell me Florez’ statements are sadly true. The only reason I can imagine for James Robertson’s comments is that he doesn’t think people look or pay attention. This has recently come to my attention and I would like to know what I can do.

    • I agree. James Robertson, director of the International Center in Bowling Green, obviously doesn’t think people look or pay attention. The problem is that the only people he answers to, the government oversight agencies, have a vested interest in believing anything he says in defense of his agency’s actions. In lawyer-speak, their interests are alligned. If he looks bad, they look bad. In other words, we don;t have any real government oversight counter action to help these refugees.

      The best thing you could do is bring the information to the attenion of the local media. Contact print and TV media. Give them specifics, and add these pictures. If you have any energy left over, contact yourf ederal elected officials – your U.S. Senators and U.S. House of Representatives’ member.

      Thank you for helping these disempowered refugees.

      • francis said

        I am a former employee of the International Center. I am former because the workers claim pay for things they don’t do. They are unkind to the refugees and forge reports. Mr. RObinson is all about ‘show’. He puts on a good front but I happen to know about a lawsuit that he had grabbed a female employee by the ass after pulling up her skirt. I knew the attorney on the case. There were other employees with similar stories of sexual misconduct but the board of directors dismissed all accusations. The female chose not to follow through with the case, not due to lack of evidence but the insurance that would have paid the settlement was over a million dollars and would have forced the IC to close leaving nowhere for the refugees to go. She apparently thought justice would one day be served….we shall see.

      • Thank-you for your information. I wonder who convinced the female employee victim that the agency would have to close?

  2. Sherry said

    You couldn’t be farther than the truth. Mr. James Robinson and the International Center provide safe and affordable housing to refugees and their families. You are relying on propaganda and half-truths.

  3. Sherry said

    I am a former employee of the International center of Owensboro and can tell you that the apartments are in generally poor condition. Many are infested with cockroaches. I was personally told by one landlord that he was unwilling to rent to the Burmese because he thought they were taking entitllments away from “deserving Americans.” He said that he had a philosophical disagreement wih renting to refugees and no equal opportunity action was taken by Mr. Robisnon or anyone on the staff of the international Center. The one rental agency has a monopoly on renting to the refugees many of which are living in deporable conditions. I have left my employment with the Inernational Center because I feel my efforts to advocate on behalf of the refugees has fallen on deaf ears. As it stands now, the refugees have been given a single choice of working at Tyson foods which is nothing more than a company that makes money on underpaying refugees who perform every job that so called “real Americans” are unwilling to do. My efforts to diversify the employment opportunities of the Burmese was seen as a threat to the integrity of the agency which has a symbiotic relationship with Tyson. Workers from Bowling Green leave at 4:30 in the morning and return home at 9 p.m. only to do it all over again because the International Center has failed in its mandate to provide good paying jobs with opportunities for growth. I was informed today that half a dozen Owenboro refugees resigned from Tyson today but fear they will not be able to find gainful employment from an agency whose director is only concerned with protecting his job is which he is practicing as a social worker without a valid license from the Kentucky Board of Social Work. I challenge local and state policy makers to look into these allegations and respond accordingly.

    • I am writing this under the name of a family member because I fear reprisail from the Boead of Directors of the International Center of Bowling Green-Owensboro (WKRMAA)

      • These allegations were made in frustration and are not representative of the work of Mr. Robinson, The International Center of Bowling Green-Owensboro (WKRMAA), or its Board of Directors.

        Scott Leach

  4. I retracted in and all negative statements made agains the International Cennter of Bowling Green-Owensboro and its Executive Director James Robinson. Mr. Robinson is a dedicated social worker and has a great passion for his clients. I respectfully apologize for any problems this has created for the agency and its Board of Directors.


    L. Scott Leach, M.S.S.W.

  5. These practices are unacceptable and may be unlawful. Reporting these practices to the media is an excellent idea but you can also do the following:

    You can partner with a lawyer/law firm to file a civil rights compliant and or file an administrative complaint. The refugee agencies have contractual obligations under their Cooperative Agreements with the Department of State and Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide safe, healthy, accessible (Section 504 compliant), affordable housing. If the agencies have not complied, talk to them and advocate for change. If that doesn’t work, then the refugees and or their advocates should file a complaint through the Office of Civil Rights and or Office of Inspector General. Their practices appear to violate their federal contract. Contact your state’s United States Attorney and ask her or him to assist you in resolving these issues.

    The refugee agencies may have also violated the federal Fair Housing Act as they have contractual and legal obligations to house refugees. First, refugee agencies may not provide housing choice. They must. Second, they may segregate and or channel them into housing by national origin, race, religion, etc. which violates the Fair Housing Act and may violate your state fair housing law. The agencies may fail to inform the refugees or report fair housing violations themselves–the landlord who allegedly said he would only rent to “deserving Americans” sounds like he made a discriminatory statement and engages in discriminatory practices by denying housing to Burmese (denying housing based on national origin). Third, the agencies with the housing providers in some cases fail to provide interpretation in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act when having them sign leases and lease up their rental. If you don’t speak/read English, how can you understand your lease or the rules. If you get federal funding, you have to provide interpretation for critical documents–leases, notices, rules, etc. See the Department of Justice’s newly released guidance on Title VI as well as HUD’s. Fourth, the agencies and landlords may treat the refugees differently because they are “refugees” and offer different terms and conditions to the lease/rental agreement such as higher deposit, not cleaning before renting, etc. You can report fair housing discrimination to and file a complaint through your local fair housing agency, state fair housing agency, and or your region’s Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office via through the fair housing section of the website. You can also report it to the Department of Justice.

    The employment practices may also warrant a complaint to your state’s human rights’ commission, the federal agencies mentioned above, and to your region’s EEOC. If the working conditions are unsafe contact OSHA and a local labor law attorney to help you and or the refugee.

    If the refugee families have travel loans, request a write off (you may only get a deferral unless their is a consumer law issue in how the loan was made) for humanitarian reasons–underemployment, unemployment, disability, minor orphan, death, bankruptcy, etc. Send the request to the International Office for Migration and copy the local refugee agency (as the agency gets to keep 25% of whatever it collects) via certified mail. Follow up. Help the refugee check his/her credit report with TransUnion to see if there is any negative reporting. Seek assistance in writing a dispute letter if the credit report is inaccurate or you believe it’s unfair.

    Thanks for all you do to help refugees with their resettlement experience–let’s be a voice for change and then do something about it!

    Zoe Ann Olson
    Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.

  6. L. Scott Leach said

    I am no longer afraid of the International Center and have secured an attorney. This is free speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is not libelous.

  7. Khee Reh said

    I was resettled with the International Center and none of this took place with my case. I had a great case worker, employment manager helped me with a job at Trace Die Cast which I enjoy a lot. I even took English classes there. They helped me with a lot of things, even with how to file my taxes. I feel bad that others had a bad experience. I will say this article is not true. James Robinson is not the director there. It is Albert Mbanfu. I even got a post card from there recently to tell me congratulations on new baby. They sent my wife some donated baby clothes and soaps. My case worker is a Burmese refugee too. These bad things didn’t happen to him either. He loves the work he does at the center.

  8. Sunflower said

    I am a current employee at the International Center and I can assure you that none of this is true. I cordially invite you to come to the center for one of our many events or volunteer orientation or to even come and volunteer or be a guest speaker. Speak to some of the refugees that are currently in the resettlement window. We are making major changes. I wish you report something positive!! There is plenty of good that is happening here.

    • Well, this year-2010 post included a refugee’s filmed statement about his experiences, and refugees’ photos showing conditions in the apartments, so on what do you base your claim that “none of this is true”? You also state in your other comment that you are a current employee, and that the Center is now under the management of a new executive director and mostly new staff. Does that mean you were not there in 2010? You want positive major changes reported but you offer no examples of this.

      • Sunflower said

        True, I was not there in 2010 which is why I invited you to come to the center and speak to refugees that are CURRENTLY in the resettlement period. You should want to report positive updates to all the negative things you report.

      • That is fine but you were incorrect to write that none of what was reported was true since you were not employed there at that time. I reported what people reported to me. I haven’t received any reports in recent years. Again, what are the positive updates?

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