Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Author Archive

Hope for Refugees in Chicago Area Airport Jobs

Posted by nancylee1 on October 8, 2011

Whether coming from extreme poverty or a professional career that allowed them to live comfortably, most refugees here find themselves with a menial job that pays next to nothing. Just as airport travelers have little choice other than to pay the expensive concession stand prices throughout O’Hare and Midway airports – operated by retailers with lucrative city contracts – so do refugees have little choice but to accept the low paying airport jobs. As someone who worked for an airline for 16 years I can also attest to the fact that working in an airport is stressful no matter what job you do. Chicago is not cheap, and refugees working the airport jobs also have long, expensive commutes, while struggling to pay high rents.

Although Chicago city contractors have long had to pay living wages, a legal loophole allowed airport concessionaires to avoid the requirement. The retailers, however, may finally have to pay their employees a “living wage” of $11.18-an-hour if Chicago aldermen pass a new ordinance, according to article at Progress Illinois:

As the City of Chicago prepares to let out a wave of contracts for food and retail shops at O’Hare and Midway airports, new legislation seeks to ensure that concession workers at both facilities — the folks who pour the coffee, ring up book sales, fry hamburgers, and the like — are not unceremoniously dumped as the process moves forward.

The “Stable Jobs Stable Airports Ordinance” (PDF), in fact, would remake labor relations for concession employees should it it make it through the council thicket and find the signature of the current or next mayor of Chicago. It also stands out as one of the most significant expansions of the Chicago’s living wage rules since those stipulations were added to city code in the late 1990s…

…O’Hare and Midway concessions are lucrative, as anyone who has purchased a meal or a  magazine while waiting for a flight out of Chicago knows well. In a request-for-proposals (PDF) for 22 specialty retail and services concessions at O’Hare, for example, the Department of Aviation reports that total sales for the 63 food, specialty concessions, news and gift stores, and duty free shops in the airport’s terminal one totaled $82.8 million in 2009. O’Hare has three terminals, of course, with 160 outlets in all, this RFP says. A “concession open house” for food and beverage slots at O’Hare and Midway, scheduled for tomorrow, will kick off a different bidding process.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward), one of the chief sponsors of the new ordinance, pointed out this morning that the concessions operators have a “captive audience” as fliers wait to board and often get multi-year contracts to run their outlets. Such business conditions mean concessionaires should be able to pay its employees a living wage, even if that means a price increase for some items… Read more here

Let’s hope that the ordinance passes so these workers and their children are not victims of a society that cares little for the 99%, while enriching the 1% who control most of the money.

Posted in Chicago, economic self-sufficiency, employment abuses, employment/jobs for refugees, Illinois, Refugees in US | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Silence that is Deafening

Posted by nancylee1 on August 13, 2011

I often wonder why there is almost no outcry against the wars…no call to end these horrific ventures made by the United States and its allies that have shattered and ended the lives of millions and destroyed their future. As a result of all the atrocities against humans and their environments, can someone tell me who wars enrich? Who is safer? Who is better off financially? Spiritually? Mentally? If nothing positive has come of all the years of violence, why continue?

Millions upon millions of people are refugees because of these endless wars. They have lost everything from family members to homes to occupations to health. Organizations in the U.S. and other countries that receive government funding help refugees to start over from losses sustained from the devastation of wars they had no part in starting.

These organizations, founded on being caretakers, extol the good they do serving refugees. They speak from a high moral ground and urge us to respect and admire them for their unselfish work. They point out to us how much society expects them to do, and with very little funding. They are quick to do studies about how necessary preservation of their budgets is in these times of economic downturn.

Yet where are their voices when it comes to asking for the cause of all this suffering to end?

Where are their voices telling of all the physical and mental illness refugees are subject to because of the wars? Why is there no mention that the wars need to end so that the money that pours into continuing them is instead used to build societies that care for and employ people? Is it spiritually correct to mop up a small part of the mess and not try to stop it at its root cause?

Wars are business and refugee rescue is business too. If it weren’t, there would be a vast outcry beyond the red portions on the spreadsheet and how it is not adding up.

To illustrate how these wars and their effects are nothing but business, please watch this interview with Richard Wolff on Democracy Now.

To read about how adversely the war in Iraq affected its people, please read this article by Murtaza Hussain.

I hope that as people become more educated about how much harm the wars really cause more voices will join each other in the streets to call for an end to these wars. Without greater awareness the wars will go on uninhibited.

Posted in faith-based, funding, health, immigration assistance, immigration services, mental health, NGO's (Non-governmental organizations), openess and transparency in government, Refugees in US, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Power of the Printed Word

Posted by nancylee1 on May 19, 2011

Stop and think for a moment about how many things in life you are given a manual or handbook on.

A new car…a new appliance…a rental agreement…a mortgage…a school…a contract of any kind…a new job…medical insurance, results and permissions…voter information…when you think about it, for almost anything that is important, you are given written information that allows you to make informed decisions and allows you to have something to refer back to.

In most cases of immigration however, this is not true. Although agencies are paid by the government to care for immigrants and refugees, explanatory written information is very often not provided. Rather, people unfamiliar with even the most basic functioning of this country are given oral seminars while they are in a state of fear and extreme fatigue, not to mention often ill. They are expected to take in cursory information that is foreign to them and hold onto it in their minds. Things that are given to them in writing are often not explained and their signature is required, but they are not even given a copy of what they have signed.

Sound like a losing proposition?
It is.

By doing this, agencies are setting people up for failure and increasing their fear. In addition, for someone who does not speak English or does not have a computer, it is comparable to being thrown to the wolves. In a country where unemployment is around 30% for refugees and living expenses are sky high, being thrown to wolves might seem like a relief compared with trying to cope in a strange new country filled with problems.

It is time to demand that agencies correct this and immigrants and refugees are given an area and language specific handbook or manual, stating the information they need to survive. What the agency has spent on them, the specifics of the program they came into the country on, their insurance benefits, hospital information, school information, local agency information, federal government programs information, lease information, utility information, all the knowledge the caseworkers are expected to know, should be presented in written form to people upon arrival.

Too many have been thrown to the wolves and are destitute because of it. This is unnecessary and inhumane and certainly not in keeping with the sentiment expressed in the website of the agencies.

“A willing heart, a helping hand, and a sense of serving the community with joy..” “…provide help and create hope for more than 9 million people of all faiths each year.” “… leveraging time, energy and resources to join the vulnerable in their time of need.”

Providing a useful tool in writing such as a handbook would go a long way to make these aspirations more attainable.

Please write to your government officials and demand immigrants and refugees be given what they need. Take ten minutes of your time to do this most important task.

Here is an easy way to find the information you need to do this…

Posted in cultural/community orientation, post arrival, economic self-sufficiency, immigration assistance, immigration services, insufficient assistance with daily tasks, language interpretation/translation, lack of, NGO's (Non-governmental organizations), R&P, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

When Do We Begin to have Empathy?

Posted by nancylee1 on April 25, 2011

If you are an unemployed American today, no matter your experience, education, or work record, finding a job is no easy task. Finding a job in which you will make a living wage is harder still, and a job that allows you to save and educate your children is almost impossible.

Now, imagine you are an Iraqi refugee. You have come here because your livelihood disappeared after the 2003 invasion. You lost family members and friends in the bloodshed. Your country is decimated and there is no place that is truly safe. No clean water, a few hours of electricity a day, no health care, no police to protect you, almost nothing you can trust. You waited years to come here, never knowing when or if it would actually happen, and now you are here, dazed, confused, frightened, bereft, and often sick. But you have hope that now you and your family will be safe.

The reality of what Iraqi refugees come here to is a shock. In a country where unemployment averages 9 percent, the unemployment level for Iraqis is 3 times that, according to an article in Reuters. The little starter jobs are often the hardest to get. Everyday the money allocated to eroded safety nets becomes more eroded to fund the wars that caused these problems in the first place. It is time for us as a nation to realize this and do more as individuals to help.

These refugees need lots of ongoing support. They need simple things explained to them because everything here is different. They need to be treated as humans and not as refugees or numbers and statistics. They need all of us to be friendly, and they deserve it.

In this age of corporate ruled government, we need to realize that the plight of refugees in this country is not one we as individuals can overlook and trust the government and agencies to take care of. We as individuals can give refugees at least a base of friendship to start out from, and if we do this, their chances of survival are much greater. Things are bad in this country. No one denies this, but for refugees they are many times worse and faced with joblessness, homelessness and an unfriendly environment – many are forced to leave. To go back to nothing.

We can change this. We can volunteer.

Posted in cultural/community orientation, post arrival, economic self-sufficiency, employment/jobs for refugees, homelessness, Refugees in US | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »