Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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US to start resettling 2000 Syrian refugees

Posted by Melissa Sogard on August 13, 2013


The US will soon begin resettling 2000 Syrian refugees. Up to now Syria’s neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have shouldered the enormous refugee burden on their own, collectively taking in about 2 million Syrian refugees. Before the crises in Syria, Jordan was already feeling the tremendous burden of caring for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. The nation’s water supply has reached the breaking point. UN Referrals of Syrian refugees to the US will come within the next four months. Those eligible for resettlement are the most vulnerable civilians, mostly usually women and children (adult males having been killed), and people who are sick. The women will most likely be heavily traumatized by war and may struggle to achieve the economic self-sufficiency goal of the US resettlement program. An article at Mint Press News has the details:

The Obama administration has announced that it will take in 2,000 Syrian refugees, the first group to be resettled in the U.S. 2 ½ years after the start of the Syrian war. The conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 and has created 1.6 million refugees according to the latest statistics from the United Nations (U.N.). With no end in sight, there will be an increasing demand for neighboring countries, as well as the U.S., to share the burdens when it comes to absorption and resettlement.

Foreign Policy’s The Cable reports that the announcement marks a break in policy for the U.S., which typically maintains a strict process for the application and absorption of refugees and asylum seekers.

Unlike previous efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to give temporary protected status to Syrians already in the United States, the State Department effort will bring in Syrians from overseas for permanent resettlement in America,” The Cable reports.

Referrals will come within the next four months…

The number may be small, but those working in refugee resettlement projects emphasize that those eligible for resettlement are among the most vulnerable civilians caught in the crossfire of war. “The criteria will be the most vulnerable refugees, most usually women and children, people who are sick and will not make it if we [U.S.] don’t help them get out,” said Lavinia Limon, President and CEO of U.S. Committee for Refugees, to Mint Press News…

Thus far it has been Syria’s neighbors who have stepped forward in the absence of further international support, namely Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, collectively taking in about 2 million. “Other countries have stepped forward in this responsibility-sharing exercise. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have opened their doors to over 2 million,” [Erol Kekic, director of the Immigration and Refugee Program for global humanitarian agency Church World Service] said.

Despite collectively representing 1/10 the land area and a fraction of U.S. resources, these countries have been forced to share the burden, partly due to their close proximity to the conflict… Read more here

Posted in children, CWS, Dept of Homeland Security, Obama administration, Syrian, women | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another refugee drowns – Chin refugee in Kent, Wash.

Posted by Melissa Sogard on September 2, 2011

An 18-year-old Chin refugee from Myanmar, and resettled to Washington state just two weeks ago, is the latest refugee to die from accidental drowning. An article about the tragic drowning is in the Whidbey News-Times:

An 18-year-old refugee from Burma drowned while swimming at a Deception Pass State Park lake Saturday afternoon, according to the Island County Coroner’s Office.

Sang Cung Hnin was at Cranberry Lake with a group of friends from a Kent church group when the tragedy occurred. Hnin and his family escaped from Burma, which is officially known as the military-dominated Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and had been living in Malaysia prior to moving to Kent just two weeks ago.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said he could find no explanation for the drowning. An autopsy revealed that Hnin was a completely healthy young man and his family members confirmed that he was a strong swimmer.

Bishop said he could only speculate that perhaps Hnin may have cramped while he was in the water… Read more here

Posted in Chin, churches, drowning, Kent, teenagers, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Australian state of Victoria settles with African refugees chased, beaten and abused by police

Posted by Melissa Sogard on June 4, 2011

The Australian reports that police in Victoria decided to settle a case in which officers chased, beat and abused two African refugees. In
a separate claim filed in the Federal Court, the two men are among 11 young African men suing seven police officers for allegedly misusing their powers by racial profiling and harassing them.

THE Victorian government has agreed to a settlement with two African refugees who claim they were chased, beaten and abused by police officers.

In an unexpected move only hours before County Court judge Susan Cohen was due to consider her verdict on the allegations, lawyers for the state told the court on Friday a settlement had been reached.

Robert Koua, 20, and Jibril God, 23, sued for damages and costs after police chased them on foot through Melbourne’s northern suburbs in February 2007. The court heard the pair “took fright” at seeing a police car and began running, while the officers inside the car were looking for a group of African youths who had robbed and assaulted another group of teenagers that night.

Mr Koua alleged police chased him down several streets while shouting racial abuse before they threw objects at his back and head. “You black c . . t. If you don’t stop I will kill you,” one of the officers allegedly said.

Another allegedly threatened to “shoot your head off if you move, you f . . king black c . . t” after they caught Mr Koua in a parking lot… here

Posted in abuse, Australian refugee resettlement prgm, police | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees + old non-stick cookware – Do not mix

Posted by Melissa Sogard on April 3, 2011

Refugee resettlement agencies seem to give nearly every refugee household old and worn non-stick pots and pans. The reason is that these are items are donated by organizations, religious groups, and individuals who are trying to help, are therefore plentiful. The problem is, these items are broken. Not only are they broken, but they are particularly dangerous for refugees who may never have cooked before on electric stoves (its not uncommon for refugees to leave empty pots on burners that are still on; that’s just a common error for people who are adapting to this new – to them -technology).

Why are these items dangerous? The problem lies with flaking non-stick coatings on this cookware and the resultant uneven heating that might accelerate emissions of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – used in making the coatings. Emissions of this chemical into a home’s air – especially when overheated – can cause flu-like illnesses in people, and can actually kill pet birds (think of the use of canaries in coal mines). Refugees simply often overheat cookware on their electric stoves as they learn to use electric ranges for the first time in their lives.

The other problem is that most of the affordable apartments that refugee resettlement agencies place these refugees in have the typical nonventilating fans over the stove, which just recycle air through old filters that no one has changed in years. Also, refugee clients often use metal utencils on their pots and pans, and even if during 15-minute home-safety orientations resettlement personnel remember to mention to refugee clients not to do this, one or two times is rarely enough.

Donated cookware that has flaking non-stick coatings must be tossed in the garbage. None of us would use these items, and neither should refugee clients. Plus – the State Department contract makes it clear that agencies must not give items to refugees which are not “in good condition”.

That’s not optional. See Operational Guidance [1] Furniture, household items and clothing listed need not be new, but must be  clean, in good condition, and functional.
[emphasis added]

Posted in Cooperative Agreement, household items, missing or broken, Operational Guidance, safety, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Church World Service of North Carolina

Posted by Melissa Sogard on November 9, 2010

We received the following letter today from a concerned citizen regarding the Church World Service of North Carolina office in Durham, NC:


CWS Refugee and Immigration Program in Durham, NC has been established since January of 2009 and starting resettling refugees in April of 2009. The office has never been monitored by PRM; the clients and the local community suffer because of their inadequacy. The director at CWS Durham actually commissioned her husband to build bed frames which were nothing more than 2x4s slapped together! If PRM cannot ensure that all the resettlement offices follow their set procedures, then I dare say there should be less refugees and less resettlement offices.

a concerned citizen

Posted in beds, Church World Service of North Carolina, North Carolina, PRM, Raleigh-Durham | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

State Department lifts restrictions on refugee resettlement to Detroit-area

Posted by Melissa Sogard on July 7, 2010

Late last month the State Department announced the suspension of the restriction on Iraqi refugee resettlement to Detroit, here.

Although “free-case” refugees (refugees without local ties to family or friends) will still not be able to resettle to Detroit, Iraqi refugees with any ties to family or friends are now free to resettle directly to the Detroit-area. For two years beginning in June 2008 the State Department only allowe Iraqi refugees with family ties specifically to a spouse, father, mother , siblings, children, grandparents, or children under the age of 18 with no other relatives in the U.S. to resettle directly to the Detroit-area.

The U.S. State Department has decided to relax a two-year-old policy that limited refugee resettlement to the Detroit area because of Michigan’s struggling economy.

An influx of Iraqi refugees have come to the area in recent years, many of whom were attracted to the Detroit area because of its large Middle Eastern population. But authorities said two years ago only those with close relatives could resettle there, in part out of fear that they would be unable to find work.

Now, the State Department says anyone with family and friends can come to the area, Lawrence Bartlett, the department’s deputy director of refugee admissions, told The Associated Press.

Most refugees with immediate family had been resettled and there was room to accept more, Bartlett said. He said the decision was made after consulting with the state refugee services office, resettlement agencies and other community leaders.

…One big reason for the change was the State Department’s decision in January to double the payments to resettlement agencies on behalf of each refugee to $1,800. That money is designed to help refugees with their expenses, such asfood and housing, for up to 90 days.

With the increase, “we were able to take a new look at this restriction,” Bartlett said.

The government also sought to prevent secondary migration, when refugees come on their own to Michigan after first being settled somewhere else. Though no precise figures exist, hundreds of Iraqis independently made their way to the Detroit area since June 2008 to connect with the community’s culture despite Michigan’s soaring unemployment rate, which was 13.6 percent in May. It was the first time in four years the state escaped the distinction of having the nation’s highest jobless rate, ceding the top spot to Nevada.

…The original restriction came as the U.S. government began increasing the overall number of Iraqis granted refugee status. The government resettled 2,744 people — mainly Iraqis — to the Detroit area from June 25, 2008, to June 24, 2009. During the same period a year earlier, 1,643 refugees were resettled in the area. From June 25, 2009, through Friday, 1,887 were resettled.

According to a letter to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton from Ramsay F. Dass, MD, Director, Iraqi American Endowment Center, and President, American Middle East Christian Congress, the State Department failed to communicate with his organizations during their May trip to Detroit.

The State Department’s personnel has failed to communicate and propagate these ideas to the Iraqi American community, especially in Michigan during the last two visits by Mr. Michael Corbin and others, which we believe ended in a fiasco. Both the State Department personnel and the Iraqi community lost a golden opportunity to have a better dialogue and a better understanding of the State Department’s programs, policies and procedures.

The Iraqi American Endowment Center’s committees and I were very disappointed that for the second time at the unannounced (?) announced trip to Michigan by Mr. Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and Mr. Lawrence Bartlett, Deputy Director Office of Refugee Admissions. We tried very hard to have a meeting with them during their two day visit to Michigan. Apart from a couple of phone calls from Mr. Bartlett, no such meeting or dialogue took place while Mr. Corbin and his visiting team had prior planned meetings with other groups including a visit to the Arab American museum and organizations that are not related directly to the Iraqi community. If this trip was meant primarily to inform and educate the Iraqi American Community at large in Michigan, then this trip was a failure. …Mr. Corbin and Mr. Bartlett had ample time to discuss issues with the agencies that are supposed to have managed the transition of the Iraqi refugees into American life. In our belief, as we have raised concerns and misgivings with the State Department on the 26th of March, these issues were not taken into consideration or acknowledged nor was an effort was made for a follow-up to my visit or acknowledgement that such issues exist. Many Iraqi Americans and Iraqi activists believe that the actions of some of those agencies knowingly or unknowingly were part of the problem in servicing the Iraqi refugees in matters related to corruption, poor services, and lack of follow-up that led Iraqi refugees to be morally, socially, economically, frustrated, disoriented, and poor.

According to Barbara Lewis, the director of communications for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, the problems at one of the State Department’s meetings with Iraqi refugees were caused by Iraqi immigrants, not Iraqi refugee immigrants – “…the people at this meeting who were unhappy were Iraqi immigrants who took issue with recent deportations of illegal Iraqi immigrants”, wrote Ms. Lewis.

So then why did the State Department not meet with or communicate adequately with the Iraqi refugee groups?

Posted in Detroit area, funding, Iraqi, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, Michigan, moratorium / restriction / reduction, R&P, secondary migration, refugee, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Refugees here facing unemployment, homelessness, so RCUSA asks for 20,000 additional next year

Posted by Melissa Sogard on June 27, 2010

The Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), the refugee resettlement agencies’ lobbying wing, is recommending to the President that we accept 100,000 refugees in fiscal year 2011, here and here. That would be 20,000 more than he recommended for this year – 80,000. Next year, no doubt, we’ll read well-placed media stories about how these additional refugees were forced onto the resettlement agencies, and how overwhelmed they are.

Unexplained is how the agencies would be able to find jobs for that many additional refugees in a down economy. According to RCUSA’s Fiscal Year 2011 Funding Urgently Needed for the Office of Refugee Resettlement: 

  … the federally funded programs administered by local refugee resettlement agencies are highly successful in assisting refugees in securing employment…

Is that true? According to the article, Arizona’s Neglected Immigrants, jobs in Phoenix are scarce for refugees:

The recession is having a strong impact on employment for Arizona’s refugees. Finding jobs for immigrants is a primary concern for the state-contracted refugee resettlement agencies, which bring a large portion of Africans to the Valley.

Only one in three of people in the refugee caseload entered the workforce in 2009, the lowest level in three years for the Office for Refugee Resettlement. Those who landed work received an average hourly wage of $7.17 here.

We know that jobs are scarce in most other states as well.

Taking at look at honey pot recommendations, RCUSA recommends more than doubling funding for the Matching Grant program from $60 million to $135 million. The program allows the resettlement agencies to give refugees donated stuff, a.k.a. ‘Junk for Jesus’, and the government matches it at a 2 to 1 ratio — two government dollars for each dollar of stuff. (Shouldn’t it be 1 to 1? The 2 to 1 is essentially a “mismatch”, isn’t it?)

They also want a $12.4 million increase for “Specialized Employment Services” for highly educated and professional refugees. But we’ve seen how they use current funding for Iraqi SIV immigrants, here. They already receive public funding for case management for each refugee whether they be refugees who are highly educated professionals or not. Why don’t they just use those dollars to connect the refugees with information at existing organizations that offer a wealth of information to help immigrant professionals, such as Upwardly Global?

RCUSA also wants $13 million more for its resettlement agency members for ‘Case Management for Highly Vulnerable Refugees’. Does that mean they are also willing to take a cut in funding for the refugees who are highly employable, well-adjusted and don’t need much case management? I suspect not.

They want an extra $4 million for community outreach. For example, the ORR funds ethnic food festivals in places like Lincoln, Nebraska here. I suspect that sort of thing is useful as a way to help refugees earn money, while creating a fun festival for the larger community, but with refugees facing evictions in the current economy is this really the best way to spend limited funds? Why isn’t current funding being shifted to help with emergencies?

Posted in employment/jobs for refugees, funding, Iraqi, Lincoln, Matching Grant program, Nebraska, Obama administration, ORR, Phoenix, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jewish Vocational Services defended, but not their refugee clients

Posted by Melissa Sogard on February 27, 2010

A friend of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Kansas City, the editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, came to the defense of the organization last year (article). No surprise there.

We first reported about this USCRI-affiliate agency back on January 25, 2010 (see post here).

The editor claims that JVS Executive Director Joy Foster and board President Callan Cohen believe that a series of internal changes last year, “in both policy and personnel”, have improved the situation.

Yet, how does that explain the revelation of yet more ongoing neglect of refugee clients this year, revealed in articles in both the Kansas City Star as well as the Pitch? Well, JVS’s Foster explains that weaknesses “surface” during a time when the organization is “stretched”. Has the organization been more stretched this year than it was last year? We learn that nearly 500 refugees were resettled last year, but that Foster expects JVS to resettle just 450 refugees in 2010. Therefore a reduction in refugee clients this year would not be the cause of the stretching. No further explanation is given.

Foster claims that JVS has had a “structural” budget deficit, and that this has left many refugee families, “in dire straits even BEFORE they arrive in Kansas City”! Foster blames the federal government for this, saying, “it almost always costs more to rent and outfit an apartment for a newly arrived refugee family than JVS receives from the federal government.”

Yet why should that be a surprise. The State Department keeps repeating over and over that they offer “seed” money as part of the public/private partnership. The government’s contribution to this humanitarian program to resettle refugees has never be meant to cover ALL costs, as resettlement agencies like JVS well know. Charities such as JVS, in the government refugee contracts they sign, promise to add “significant” amounts of their own private funding. That’s the “private” half of the public/private partnership, or at least its supposed to be.

“The good news is,” Foster said, “that the U.S. Department of State informed us on Jan. 22 that money for reception and placement will double for the calendar year.”


Does that mean that JVS’s responsibilities to the refugees will also double? No. There has been no announcement of any additions to the fairly measly list of minimum standards contained in the Operational Guidance refugee contract document.

How about requiring resettlement agencies to provide used telephones and basic phone service so that refugees can call about job openings? Nope. Could we just have a requirement that refugees be given a little dictionary ($5 at Wal-Mart) to help them learn English. No. How about requiring resettlement agencies to take each refugee to just 1-3 potential, realistic job leads each week. No way. Resettlement agencies defend their failures to help refugees find jobs by saying, “we are NOT required to find them jobs.” How about requiring some minimum efforts at least? Would that be too much to ask?

Oh well.

Posted in Kansas City, Missouri, Operational Guidance, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City

Posted by Melissa Sogard on January 25, 2010

We’ve been reading articles and posts around the internet regarding problems at this refugee resettlement agency – JVS (Jewish Vocational Services). There are two recent artcles in the Pitch, here and here. (Christopher wrote a comment for the first Jan. 7th article regarding how the U.S. Department of State conducts investigations of refugee resettlement agencies – see Comment #8; also see Comment #1).

There articles tell the story of what our group has seen at refugee resettlement agencies in other parts of the U.S.; refugees being placed in apartments that do not meet the requirements of the State Department’s guidelines, refugees not been given rides to crucial doctor appointments, refugees who have no idea who to call when their refugee resettlement agency is not there to assist them.

JVS is an affiliate of the USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). The USCRI’s affiliates have been in dozens of newspaper articles during the past several years that have documented neglect of refugees.

I guess my question is why hasn’t JVS responded to the reports of neglect? The silence almost reads as a confirmation of the reporter’s information and the stories told by JVS’ refugee clients. Does it really all come down to funding issues? If the private contributions added to the public money contributions were too little, why were the refugees accepted by JVS for resettlement? Did a grant or two fall through? How is the public to understand what has happened with so few details provided by JVS?

Posted in Burundian, housing, housing, substandard, insufficient assistance with daily tasks, Jewish, Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »