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Archive for the ‘Indianapolis’ Category

Chosing between fast economic self-sufficiency or learning English

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 19, 2013

Southeastern Avenue

The State Department visit to Indiana this week highlights an important issue – our national refugee resettlement program requires refugees to find employment early to gain economic self-sufficiency, but that often comes at the cost of the refugees learning English. The resettlement program need to find solutions and carry them out so that the refugees can do both. An Indy Star article covering in part the State Department’s visit to Indianapolis indirectly addresses the issue:

About a year ago, executives at a fulfillment center on the Near Southside heard about Indianapolis’ growing Burmese population. The company, which had long prided itself on hiring minorities, decided to help out by offering some entry-level jobs to those in need of employment.

That gesture led to a visit Wednesday from a delegation of Washington and United Nations officials to the OSP Group site on Southeastern Avenue…

…In deference to Burmese employees, the company, which ships nearly 16 million packages a year from Indianapolis, uses signs with numbers and symbols instead of words so workers need not be literate in English to understand…

…Bartlett and Shelly Pitterman, a regional representative from the UNHCR, talked briefly with one of those employees, Mang Sin Cer, 29, who took a short break from sorting packages.

Speaking in her native Chin language through an interpreter, Cer softly and succinctly answered their questions. She has worked for the company for about a year. She came to the United States a few years ago through Malaysia.

Friends baby-sit her nearly 3-year-old while she works. Others give her a ride to work from her home on the Southside.

As for the job? Sometimes she gets tired, but “everything is all right,” Cer said through the translator.

Then, Bartlett asked whether she was learning any English.

A little bit,” Cer said.

When Bartlett heard that the company did not have a program to help employees learn English, he suggested, “You should think about one.”… Read more here

Posted in economic self-sufficiency, employment/jobs for refugees, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Indianapolis, language, Office of Admissions, UN (United Nations) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

State Department Director of refugee admissions to visit Fort Wayne this week

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 16, 2013


Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the U.S. State Department will visit Fort Wayne on Thursday. He will also visit local refugee resettlement efforts in Indianapolis and Detroit next week. As usual, the State Department will only meet with “stakeholders” – resettlement agencies, service providers, advocates, Mayor Tom Henry and refugees themselves. The only refugees that State visits are those chosen by the refugee resettlement contractor(s). Although “advocates” are newly listed as stakeholders, as a refugee advocate myself I can tell you that State has never, that I know of, responded to independent advocates with dissenting views or invited them to attend these meetings. Accepting criticism were due is not a skill modeled or practiced by the federal refugee resettlement oversight agencies or their contractors. An article in the Journal-Gazette has more:

FORT WAYNE – Officials for the U.S. State Department and the United Nations will visit Fort Wayne this week to learn more about refugee resettlement efforts.

Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for State, and Shelly Pitterman, regional director of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, plan to meet Thursday with those described by Bartlett as “stakeholders” – resettlement agencies, service providers, advocates, Mayor Tom Henry and refugees themselves.

We try to go to communities on a regular basis to really try to understand where the nuances are, how communities are coping and how we might, if we can, adjust some of the programs,” Bartlett said from his Washington, D.C., office in a telephone interview last week.

The last time a State Department official came to Fort Wayne to evaluate refugee resettlement services was in 2009. Bartlett also will visit refugee communities in Indianapolis and Detroit next week.

Part of the responsibility we have is not just to see how our programs are faring but to see how the community is supporting refugees, to see where there are issues, challenges, weaknesses in the programs that we can be helpful with,” Bartlett said.

We really do see this as a partnership with the community,” he said…

…Eric Schwartz, then an assistant secretary of the State Department, discovered what he called “heartening and dismaying” conditions for newly arriving refugees of various nationalities when he visited Fort Wayne…in 2009…

…Schwartz ended his dispatch by saying the State Department would increase its resettlement grants from $900 to $1,800 for each new refugee, an amount that has since grown to $1,875. Roughly half the money goes for administrative costs of resettlement agencies, Bartlett said, and half pays for rent, food and other necessities for the refugee…

…The State Department has a nationwide ceiling of 18,000 refugee arrivals from East Asia in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30. It expects 17,500 of them to be ethnic minority Burmese who have been living in refugee camps in Malaysia and Thailand.

The department has approved Catholic Charities for 170 refugee resettlements in fiscal 2013. Read more here

We read that the State Department per head refugee resettlement grant had increased, from $1,800 in 2010 to the current $1,875 as it turns out, but this is the first mention I’ve seen in the media. The grant only covers initial resettlement efforts in the U.S. – the first 30-90 days – which the State Department claims they intend as “seed money” for the private resettlement contractors to use for resettlement, with significant private resources supposedly added in. I suppose allowing the contractors to use 50 percent of it for overhead though somewhat defeats the purpose of the “see money” policy, although it may be necessary in instances where they are unable to find private resources to add. Otherwise, wouldn’t you expect that they would use the private funding for overhead and transferring the $1,875 directly to the refugees in goods and services?

The article somewhat confuses the issue of who Burmese are by referring to “ethnic minority Burmese”. The Burmese are actually the ethnic majority group in Myanmar, with minority ethnic groups being the Arakan (aka Rakhine), Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Rohingyas, Shan, Zomi and others. At this blog we now refer to refugees from the country as Myanmar refugees. The Burmese were the group allied with the Japanese in World War II, while the U.S., the U.K. and others allied with the ethnic minority groups.

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, democracy, Detroit area, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Office of Admissions, openess and transparency in government, State Department, UN (United Nations) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Chin refugees congregate in Indianapolis and Columbus

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 12, 2012

Columbus, Ohio

Indianapolis has become a major hub for Chin refugees from Myanmar. Now, Chin refugees are also making Columbus a favored destination for settlement. Chin has more than 40 dialects, which can make it difficult for schools and agencies to find interpreters. Although in this case it is the Lai Chin who are settling in Columbus’ Far West Side. An article in The Columbus Dispatch explains:

…during a visit to Columbus, Hai Vung Lian was impressed with what he saw. With more research, he discovered that the city — particularly the Far West Side — had a lot to offer his countrymen and women who needed a home: a steady job market and affordable housing near good schools, public transportation and hospitals.

I thought we could start a community here,” Lian, 47, said of the Chin population, who have fled the southern Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

He encouraged Chin families living in refugee settlements outside Myanmar to start anew in Columbus. What started as a trickle in 2007 has become a steady stream of Chin refugees.

Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus has placed 137 Chins since October 2007, Executive Director Angie Plummer said.

Another 13 are scheduled to arrive before the end of November.

One problem with resettlement efforts has been the language barrier. Chin has more than 40 dialects, making it difficult for schools and agencies to find interpreters…

Lai Chin is the common tongue for the 61 Chin students enrolled in South-Western…

According to the United Nations refugee agency, 8,562 refugees from Myanmar were resettled in the United States between January and June this year. More than 1,300, including the Chin, have been resettled in Ohio since 2008.

The largest community of Myanmar refugees is in Indianapolis. There, 3,909 refugees have been settled after arriving from overseas. Because of others moving within the U.S., the Indianapolis population has grown to about 9,000, about 6,400 of them Chin refugees, said Elaisa Vahnie, the executive director of the Burmese-American Community Institute in Indianapolis.

Vahnie said Indianapolis, like Columbus, is a transportation hub where unskilled workers can find warehouse and manufacturing jobs… Read more here

Posted in Chin, Columbus, Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), Indianapolis, language, magnet city, refugee, schools, secondary migration, refugee | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Refugees in Indianapolis without beds, couches and basics

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 7, 2012

For some reason a lot of refugees in Indianapolis who don’t have basic items that they were supposed to have received when they were resettled, such as beds and couches. Is there a continuing influx of secondary migrants from other states or is the resettlement agency in Indianapolis not giving refugees these basic items? Now, Storehouse Ministries, a group created to help needy families with everything from furniture to clothing to hygiene items, has stepped in to help. An article at the Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indi. – near Indianapolis) explains the refugees’ needs:

WHITELAND, Ind. — Inside the headquarters of Storehouse Ministries, men, women and children rushed through the open warehouse with their lists in hand.

They had 15 minutes to pick out the items they needed. Some went to the furniture, inspecting gently used couches or small desks where their children could do their homework.

Others picked through bins of soap, shampoo, razors and deodorant. A few started picking up jackets and sweaters before winter set in...

Storehouse Ministries was created to help needy families with everything from furniture to clothing to hygiene items. Organizers focused on the items that government assistance and local food pantries don’t provide — mattresses, toothbrushes, diapers, blankets…

Most of the ministry’s clients have come from the Chin refugee community, Mills said. Organizers had contacted pastors from throughout the south side. When the Storehouse opened, pastors and members within the group flooded it…

Teri Shehorn, a member at Grace Assembly of God, was drawn to this idea of a new way of helping people. She volunteers regularly to sort donations, helps guide families through the warehouse and bags up their goods when they’re done shopping…

“A lot of people are really benefiting by getting things like couches and mattresses. You’d be surprised how many people are sleeping on the floor, without the ability to buy any kind of bedding,” Shehorn said…

“It’s so important for people who have to start over. Maybe they had a fire, or they’ve just come to this country. They wouldn’t have a place to sleep otherwise,” Helke said… Read more here

Posted in beds, Catholic Charities Indianapolis, Chin, furnishings, lack of, Indianapolis | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The danger of crossing roads where there are no lights or crosswalks

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 14, 2011

On Saturday, two teens from Burma/Myanmar were hit by a car in south Indianapolis, according to an article at WISH TV. A person commenting on the article claims that it was in the vicinity of the Greentree apartment complex. A city councilman points out the problem of refugees coming from places with few automobiles, yet another person commenting claims that an elderly woman was killed near the same place two years ago while trying to cross the road.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – On Saturday, two teens were hit by a car just north of Stop 11 and Madison Avenue on the city’s south side.

The accident happened around 6:15 p.m. in an area with no lights and no cross walks.

Both teens are recovering, 17-year-old Ramilant Hang is at home, 18-year-old Van Bawi Sang is still at Wishard Hospital.  Van was upgraded from critical to serious condition after surgery Saturday evening for head injuries.

The two teens and their families are Burmese refugees…

…City-County Councilman Jack Sandlin said the Department of Public Works should now look at this area as a high priority…

…”It sounds pretty basic to us, but when you come from an area that doesn’t really have a lot of automobiles, it’s a huge difference,” Sandlin said. Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Catholic Charities Indianapolis, Indianapolis, safety, teenagers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee community gardens plundered in Indianapolis

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 4, 2011

After community gardens were recently plundered in New York City, thieves in Indianapolis have also made their mark, equipped with shovels and plastic bags and brazenly entering gardens in broad daylight to carry away produce. This is the second year in a row that one community garden has been ripped-off in the city. An article in The Star gives us the details:

After a summer of battling bugs, pulling weeds and digging dirt in the stifling hot weather, gardeners of the Grassroots Community Farm were nearly in tears over the latest insult.

They struggled several times last week for answers to an unexpected problem at their three-acre plot near 38th Street and Lafayette Road.

Who would steal their hard-won tomatoes right off the vine? Who cut the collard greens and swiped their sweet potatoes?

Apparently, the gardeners decided, it wasn’t deer from nearby Eagle Creek Park. Rather, it was the work of vegetable thieves who came equipped with shovels and plastic bags.

Their plot isn’t the only community garden in the city to suffer thefts and vandalism this summer.

The Grassroots gardeners are all immigrants or refugees…

…Indianapolis is not alone with stories of garden thievery. The New York Times reported recently that veggie thefts this summer that have disheartened gardeners in New York’s network of more than 700 community plots…

…”Thefts and vandalism are huge,” declared Kay Crimm of Grow Me gardens.

Last year, her group had a three-acre site near 46th Street and Arlington Avenue. It was plundered so badly that the gardeners left the site and moved to a plot at 46th Street and Post Road, she said, but it has “been ripped up, too.”

The garden coordinators said veggie thieves are brazen, making their raids both at night and in broad daylight.

Beltran-Figueroa said “private property” signs did not stop the thefts on at least two days in the past week… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, community gardens, Indianapolis, NYC | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catholic Charities Indianapolis out of complaince with government refugee services contract

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 22, 2010

USCCB affiliate Catholic Charities Indianapolis is yet another resettlement agency that has been out of compliance with their State Department refugee services contract. In other words the public pays for them to give certain minimum services and material items to the refugees, via a government contract, and then they don’t abide by that contract. The consequences? None. The State Department’s Admissions Office merely noted some of their failures and asked them to do better. After all, they are not considered merely contractors, but exalted “partners” — with rights. Rights that apparently include violating basic terms of public contracts if they want to. Catholic Charities Indianapolis is one of the agencies that recently requested yet more government money for their refugee services, here.

The most recent State Department monitoring report for this agency (April 2008) indicates that Catholic Charities Indianapolis failed to properly document services, failed to refer refugees to English classes, failed to give refugees community and cultural orientation, failed to give refugees required pocket-money, and failed to show proof that they gave refugees their share of State Department R&P (Resettlement & Placement) money, here. Refugee case files also contained names of unrelated people (privacy violation), and Catholic Charities Indianapolis did not have any structured training program for its employees, as required.

Catholic Charities Indianapolis for the most part resettles Burmese refugees who have ties to friends and family (often distant relatives) in Indiana. The resettlement program refers to these friends and family as “anchors”, and resettlement agencies often talk the anchors into giving the arriving refugees the minimum-required services and material items that the State Department requires via the refugee contracts. As of February 2008, however, USCCB (US Catholic Conference of Bishops)directed Catholic Charities Indianapolis to treat all their refugee clients as “free case” refugees (refugees with no established ties to someone in the US). In fiscal year 2007 Catholic Charities Indianapolis resettled 393 refugees.

State Department monitors visited four refugees families – a Somali family of eight, and three Burmese families, one with seven members, one with four, and one single man. It immediately became clear that Catholic Charities Indianapolis had not given the refugees even the minimum-required services, which are fairly minimal to start with.

None of the adults were enrolled in ESL (English as a Second Language). Two families said they did not get any community/cultural orientation. The Somali family said they had electric bills of between $500 and $700 per month and did not understand the reason for this (apparently Catholic Charities Indianapolis was not monitoring the family’s situation). One of the Burmese families said they did not have enough clothing for the husband for work, or for the children for school. Also, they were unable to close their sliding door completely and cold air was coming into the apartment (in April). The couple was also very concerned about having enough income to pay rent and utility bills.

The adults in the second Burmese refugee family that monitors visited said they were also concerned about paying the rent, and neither of them was working. The husband said that Catholic Charities Indianapolis did not do anything to help him find a job, and although he did not speak English, he said that no one from Catholic Charities Indianapolis told him where to take ESL classes. He said he didn’t even know how to take the bus.

The third Burmese refugee home visit was to the single man. Although he had arrived five month earlier he said that Catholic Charities Indianapolis did not give him any of his R&P money ($425 at that time) until the day before the State Department monitors visited! He said Catholic Charities Indianapolis didn’t even give him any pocket-money (the refugee contract supposedly requires this). He also said that they didn’t give him any orientation. He had no idea about 911 emergency procedures, and had no idea how to bring his wife and children to the US.

Of the 11 other case files that monitors inspected, four lacked refugee client signatures indicating receipt of R&P money (in other words there was no proof to show the refugees ever received the money at all). Seven files contained names and personal information of unrelated persons. Pocket money was not given to any of the refugees. In addition, case files often lacked signatures and dates, all contact with refugees was not recorded, and there was no distinction between money spent for the State Department R&P services and money spent for HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) refugee services. Therefore, there was no way to account for the R&P money.

Catholic Charities Indianapolis is one of the resettlement agencies that geared up for larger numbers of arriving refugees this year, here.

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Catholic, clothes, community/cultural orientation, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, ESL & ELL, faith-based, funding, immigration services, Indiana, Indianapolis, late health screenings, ORR, pocket-money, public/private partnership, R&P, reform, Somali, State Department, transportation, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Indiana struggle – contractors want more government funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 19, 2010

The Indianapolis Star reports that refugees are not having an easy go of things in Indiana. Refugees, like US citizens, are having a hard time finding jobs, even with job training, and struggle to get by on limited government help. Local resettlement agencies are hoping that the Obama administration will come through with a lot of new government funding via the NSC’s “review” of the federal refugee program.

The U.S. government provides various forms of assistance to refugees — people who typically have escaped the ravages of war-torn nations where torture and political persecution are common — but it’s only available for up to eight months.

By then, it’s expected that refugees — even though many come with limited savings and often little or no English skills — will have found work and be self-sufficient.

…in this economy, many refugees…find it nearly impossible to get work, even with job training provided by the state.

Of the 1,862 refugees and political asylum grantees who resettled in Indiana in 2009, 49 percent became employed, with an average wage of less than $9 an hour.

That leaves many families relying heavily — or entirely — on short-term federal assistance.

…The Obama administration is conducting the first thorough review of the nation’s refugee resettlement system in three decades.

Major reforms are expected to be announced this summer and could include the extension of federal aid for eligible refugees past the current eight-month maximum.

Experts say the review is especially necessary now, given the struggling economy and shaky job market, and because it’s long overdue.

The current system remains virtually unchanged from when it was established by Congress in 1980, when the country was dealing with a wave of refugees from Southeast Asia. Now, the population is more diverse: Last year, nearly 75,000 refugees from more than 70 countries arrived in the United States.

“It’s a cookie-cutter approach to resettlement at this point,” said Carleen Miller, executive director of Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc., which, along with Catholic Charities Indianapolis, is one of two agencies that resettle newcomers in the Circle City.

“There’s not a lot of flexibility to really meet the unique needs of . . . the people that are coming,” Miller said. “It’s never been reviewed to see if it’s really meeting the needs of the current populations that are coming.”

…”The expectation of the United States government is that people are self-sufficient within six months, and that’s really difficult in this economy, plus it’s difficult for the groups that are coming right now.” here

I notice that all the “experts” this journalist refers to are contractors for the refugee program. Is it really any surprise they all want more free government money as the one and only solution to all the problems that plague the program? No one seems to think about how more public funds could drive out the few private funds remaining in the program.

Also, Miller’s statement that the US government expects that refugees be self-sufficient in six months is not correct. If Miller would check her State Department refugee contract she would see that they expect her organization to help 75% of refugees find jobs within six months – and the State Department has dropped that expectation entirely during this recession. Plus, why would the government offer eight months of Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) if they expected everyone to have a job within six months?

The article also mentions medical issues for refugees.

Other issues compound the problem. Because refugees increasingly are coming from war-torn nations such as Iraq, more have such medical issues as shrapnel wounds and amputations.

Those medical issues are yet another difficult hurdle many refugees must overcome in their efforts to find employment and become self-sufficient — and it’s an issue that often requires time.

“I think there are going to be more medical cases,” Miller said, “so this review couldn’t have come at a better time.”

I don’t understand this claim that refugees are increasingly coming from war-torn nations. Haven’t refugees always come from war-torn nations? I know that many non-refugees from the FSR (former-Soviet republics) given refugee status probably didn’t have war injuries, but most refugees have always been fleeing wars, as well as fleeing oppressive regimes that did not offer medical care for their people and that employed torture on opponents.

How will the NSC review address this issue? The national volags are supposedly required to have a plan for placing refugees in their network in places where they can receive proper medical treatment, although somehow refugees keep being placed in cities that do not have torture treatment programs. All the requirements in the world don’t matter if they are not enforced. Also, we already have social security disability payments. Many Americans resent that refugees arrive here and begin to receive social security payments when they haven’t been adding to the social security pot. If disability payments aren’t good enough, what else are the resettlement agencies proposing here?

We won’t know the answer to that until the NSC releases the results of its review because all the meetings have been behind closed doors and only involved the refugee contractors and government agencies. The public was not invited to take part. I hope the refugees aren’t noticing how we practice democracy in this program.

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Charities Indianapolis, Christian, employment/jobs for refugees, Exodus Refugee Immigration, faith-based, funding, health, Indiana, Indianapolis, Iraqi, NSC (National Security Council), Obama administration, openess and transparency in government, Palestinian, reform, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »