Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Bullying in Baltimore

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 5, 2012

“Welcome to America” is being served as a derisive cheer in Baltimore against refugee and asylum seeker kids when American kids score points in soccer matches. In the neighborhoods in Baltimore where they are being resettled  they continually fear petty theft, bullying and worse (two Nepali Bhutanese refugees were shot last summer; one died), and often feel so anxious that when they come home, “they sit with the lights off to avoid contact with the outside world.” So reports the executive director of Soccer Without Borders Baltimore, Jill Pardini, in an article in The Baltimore Sun:

“Welcome to America.” It’s a traditional greeting that implicitly embodies notions of acceptance, hope and opportunity.

But that simple phrase can also be used as a taunt, as I witnessed during a youth soccer game in Baltimore where the teams were starkly divided by race, religion and language.

“Welcome to America” served as a derisive cheer hurled across the field when the fairer-skinned team scored against a team made up of refugees and asylum seekers from Nepal, Bhutan, Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania and Guinea. It was perhaps the most creative insult (but far from the first) we have experienced since forming our teams of young refugees in 2009…

…The neighborhoods they live in make them so anxious that when they are home, they often sit with the lights off to avoid contact with the outside world. When forced to face the city for school or work, they fear petty theft and bullying. In some cases, refugees face assault and even death, as we saw in the murder and robbery last summer of a Bhutanese refugee who had been here only two months.

The kids I work with through the nonprofit organization Soccer Without Borders Baltimore are more resilient and more ambitious than anyone I know. These kids and their families have landed in Baltimore after a long and arduous bureaucratic refugee resettlement process, sometimes after years in camps, only to end up in a community that can’t seem to protect them, doesn’t seem to be interested in getting to know them, yet expects them to become productive citizens and help solve the city’s longstanding ailments.

There has been a lot of talk about Baltimore becoming more open and welcoming to new Americans — both refugees and immigrants. An executive order signed by the mayor encourages support for newcomers. But if the experiences I have seen, both on the soccer fields of Baltimore and in the surrounding communities, are typical, we have a lot of work to do… Read more here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: