Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘R&P’

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 »

USCRI’s International Institute of Erie in “partial compliance” with State Department refugee services contract

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 21, 2010

In the latest monitoring report from the State Department evaluating the USCRI’s International Institute of Erie, the State Department rated the agency as being in “partial compliance” with their refugee services contract (here). They rated housing and furnishings provided to refugees by the International Institute of Erie as “not in compliance” with R&P (resettlement & placement) requirements, and refugee employment, at 41%, was below established targets (75%).

The International Institute of Erie made it into the newspaper in recent months with a report that a Burmese refugee family was left at the airport overnight and had to sleep on the floor, here and here. We inquired with the director of the Institute, John Flanagan, to find out why the refugees were left there, but he never responded.

The State Department report, the product of a second State Department inspection in eight years (unusual), found that of four refugee families visited, three reported that the Institute had delivered some required furnishings and done some repairs the DAY BEFORE the monitors’ visit. The housing and furnishings were also generally below minimum standards. The monitors suggested that the Institute’s director Mr. Flanagan, visit the homes of the Burundian, Iraqi, and Burmese refugee families (gee, what a novel idea).

According to the report:

In the apartment of the Burundian family, monitors observed water leaking through electrical wiring, evidence of rodent and insect infestation, and several broken chairs. The oven did not work and the rear entrance to the apartment had been boarded up. Furniture was arranged in one bedroom in a way that would make exit difficult in an emergency. The family reported that affiliate staff delivered a sofa and alarm clock and repaired a moldy, leaking bathroom ceiling the day before the monitors’ visit. Monitors asked that alternative housing be found immediately for the family.

The Iraqi family informed monitors that they were extremely uncomfortable in their home and were often afraid to leave the apartment because they feel the neighborhood is unsafe. They described an instance where a woman screamed all night in the street outside their apartment, and said they have witnessed drug dealers fighting and frequent police activity in the neighborhood. They complained that the house is dirty and infested with insects, the bathroom did not work for two weeks after their arrival; and the lock on the door to the basement is broken. Clothing storage had been provide by [the International Institute of Erie] the day before the monitors’ visit. Monitors observed garbage stored in the hallway outside the family’s kitchen, and moldy carpet in the bathroom. There was  no working smoke detector in the apartment. …the husband said he was relying on Iraqi friends to help him find work because International Institute of Erie staff had told him there was no work available.

…Monitors asked that the affiliate assist the Iraqi [family] to find new housing.

Read more. It doesn’t get much better.

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Burundian, employment services, Erie, furnishings, lack of, household items, missing or broken, housing, substandard, International Institute of Erie, Iraqi, meeting refugees at the airport, neglect, Nepali Bhutanese, Pennsylvania, R&P, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

New report released on USCRI’s YMCA International Services, in Houston

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 12, 2010

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ (USCRI) Houston affiliate, YMCA International Services, touts itself as an “agency that provides holistic services to Houston’s refugee and immigrant communities”. 

According to a June 2008 State Department inspection report we recently received these  so-called holistic services include:

1) Placing refugees in a dirty apartment complex, with apartments without smoke detectors, apartments infested with roaches and mice, broken, running sink faucets (not repaired for 2 months), inadequate clothing storage and no hangers, and refugee families packed into apartments too small for them, 2) making refugees wait 3 weeks after arrival for community and cultural orientation, so that until then they had no idea even how to use the bus, 3) failing to give refugees ready-to-eat food upon arrival after their long intercontinental flights to the U.S., 4) basic furnishings provided late, 5) waiting 2 and 3 months before enrolling refugee children in school,  6) leaving refugees without interpreters at medical appointments, and 7) mixing up refugee client records so that files contained missing reports, files contained documents from unrelated refugee cases, documents in the same file contradicted each other, and case notes that didn’t begin until four months after a refugee case’s arrival.

The State Department temporarily suspended refugee assignments to YMCA International Services, but not due to the above conditions. In fact, these conditions, which the State Department termed “partial compliance” (of refugee resettlement contract requirements) were what actually allowed the suspension to end. The suspension ended due to improvement from earlier worse conditions (“non-compliant” with contract conditions), which included among other things:

1) Placing refugees in roach and insect-infested apartments that the refugees did not feel safe in, 2) requiring refugees to pay for electricity for a time that predated their arrival to the U.S., 3) giving refugees sub-standard mattresses, as well as apparently a whole list of unmentionables, perhaps deemed unprintable.

Now wouldn’t you think that refugee resettlement would have been permanently terminated with this inept agency (or are they just uncompassionate?), and certainly not resumed? Apparently not. Yet, in what other areas of life is “partial compliance” with contracts considered an acceptable form of business? It seems like this is accpetable only because the customers — the refugees and the taxpayers — are voiceless in the matter. The system doesn’t answer to them.

I think that State Department Office of Refugee Admissions officials have some explaining to do.

Posted in beds, Burma/Myanmar, Burundian, community/cultural orientation, Cuban, employment services, Ethiopian, failure to enroll refugee children in school, food, furnishings, lack of, housing, overcrowding, housing, substandard, Houston, Iraqi, R&P, State Department, Texas, transportation, USCRI, YMCA International Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Senate hearing on Refugee Protection Act of 2010

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 27, 2010

A U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing took place on May 19, 2010 for the Refugee Protection Act of 2010.

Dan Glickman, President of Refugees International testified about various aspects of the bill including Section 21 which would require that the State Department’s R&P (Resettlement & Placement) per head refugee grant (for refugees’ first 30-90 days) be automatically increased yearly based on inflation and increases in the cost of living (here).

Glickman testified that:

“…Section 21 of the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 would require the Secretary of State to conduct, on an annual basis, a review of the Reception and Placement grant amount to ensure that it reflects the actual costs of resettlement during the first 30-90 days.  The Secretary would then notify Congress of any changes…”

Does this mean that the federal government would now be expected to pay for ALL costs of the first stage of resettlement when for decades the program has claimed that it is a partnership between the government and private charitable groups? Currently, the so-called partnership supposedly requires that the private resettlement agencies give significant private resources to the refugee resettlement effort, although to what extent they do is unknown since they make little data public.

There is reason to believe, after analysing the resettlement agencies’ 990 forms, that many of them rely on the government for most of their funding, and not actually raising much private funding. (Check out our analysis of some of the LIRS affiliates’ funding in our Recommendations to the NSC’s inter-agency task force on refugee resettlement program reform, p.7, here).

Has Refugees International considered the possible dampening effect on resettlement agencies’ efforts to raise private funding for refugees if the R&P grant was automatically raised each year? What incentive would they have to raise funds for refugees if they had this mechanism to cover the absolute minimum funds necessary to resettle refugees into poverty, while covering their salaries and overhead? Is this really in the refugees’ interests?

Posted in Congress, funding, government, LIRS, NSC (National Security Council), public/private partnership, R&P, Refugees International, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

EMM’s Agency for New Americans Under Fire In Boise

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 12, 2010

A refugee resettlement agency in Boise, Idaho has come under fire once again here. Agency for New Americans is at the epicenter of the new report. This follows a case reported in the Boise Weekly in February about a Burundian woman refugee who lost custody of her children after receiving mental health services in pantomime, without an interpreter, at Mountain States Group here (the Agency for New Americans is a part of Mountain States Group).

In the latest report a Congolese refugee named Alexis Mpalirwa (a father of five, who arrived in Idaho with his family just before the recession hit) gives his opinion of EMM’s Agency for New Americans.

[In his modest apartment] used box springs with exposed nails and mismatched bedding cover the floor of the roomhe shares with wife, Josephine.

…Mpalirwa tried to support his family doing temporary jobs such as janitorial work and mowing lawns. Money issues aside, the local welcome for Mpalirwa – as a refugee, as an African – has not always been warm.

At one of several nonprofit organizations where he volunteers so his family can continue to receive Health and Welfare benefits, a co-worker called him a “chimpanzee” when he was having trouble understanding her. Mpalirwa speaks French and Swahili and other African dialects. He’s learning English, but it’s halting.

…His two oldest sons were among those who got food-processing jobs at a nearby onion farm. Unfortunately, the jobs were temporary and his sons are back where they started.

“If they know there are no jobs, why do agencies bring refugees here?” asked Mpalirwa.

“Agencies take advantage of refugees,” Mpalirwa said. “They play with them until the money’s gone, and then they go away.”

An Iraqi refugee woman reported similar poor treatment.  

Dhuha Ali, a doctor and Baghdad native, speaks fluent English. She left Iraq as a refugee in 2009 with her husband, Salwan Swidan, who’s also a doctor, and their young son.

Ali and Swidan’s first lodgings in Boise, provided by the Agency for New Americans, contained one bed, a dirty couch, box springs intended as a second bed for the baby, dirty floors, an unusable rusted knife and minimal groceries.

Ali said she and Swidan received inadequate guidance from the agency about such things as where to shop, or how to get around Boise. The guidance they did get was one-size-fits-all – a volunteer came to their apartment to explain how to use a shower curtain and put garbage in a trash can – and not appropriate for urban professionals.

“It was insulting,” said Ali.

Refugees like Ali and Swidan who arrive in the U.S. to find substandard lodging – used towels, blankets with holes, chipped cups – question how agencies use the federal “welcome” money allocated to each refugee to tide them over until full benefits kick in.

…Ali and Swidan found jobs on their own, interpreting for other refugees and at a hospital human resources office, respectively.

“I think the main thing that helped us get jobs is that the agency was not involved,”Ali said.

Ali regrets that her first encounter with the U.S. was through a resettlement agency.

“It was so hard at first,” she said. “In the Middle East, at least you know the rules. Here, I was begging for plates and spoons.”

Why did the Agency for New Americans give the dirty and broken junk to these refugees instead of the minimum-required items of the State Department’s R&P contract? Slobodanka Hodzic, assistant director at the Agency for New Americans said:

  …the federal government provides a list of items the agency must provide for new arrivals. “It’s really bare,” she said – one fork and one knife per person, for example. About 95 percent of the furnishings her agency provides for new arrivals’ apartments are donated, she said.

Oops, she forgot to mention that the list is just for the minimum they are to give the refugees. It’s not like they couldn’t give the refugee family a few extra spoons and knives and plates. But, it’s nice that someone in a refugee resettlement agency finally agrees with us that the list of required items for refugees (here), required to receive grant money via the State Department’s R&P contract, is so minimal. But then why didn’t her agency give at least those minimum things? Broken, dirty junk is not allowed, according to the contracts, but I suppose that’s irrelevant since the minimum requirements of the contracts are never enforced.

I suppose that agencies will blame the current economy for forcing them to give dirty, broken junk to the refugees, but this has been going on for decades now. It happens when the economy is good and when it isn’t good.

The issue of the poor community orientation again comes up here. Would it really be so hard for the Agency for New Americans not to give a simple, one-size-fits-all community orientation to every refugee? In the case of Iraqi professionals the agency could have just asked the refugees what things they had questions about at the apartment, and then showed them around the community to orient them. But they didn’t even do that.

Each time the State Department finds out about problems they treat it as an isolated incident, and feel good about themselves that they are nice and “work with” the agencies to fix “the” problem. Yet, what we see is that these problems are not isolated, and in fact, often seem routine.

None so blind as those who will not see.

Posted in Agency for New Americans (in Mountain States Group, Inc., Boise), beds, Boise, Burundian, community/cultural orientation, Congolese, EMM, employment services, faith-based, Idaho, Iraqi, IRC, neglect, Operational Guidance, R&P, State Department, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Increase in R&P public funding: the discussion continues

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 7, 2010

There is an ongoing discussion of R&P funding in the comments section of the Jan. 31 post, ‘Increase in R&P public funding – an analysis’ (here).

Posted in Alliance for Multi-Cultural Community Services, CWS, funding, International Institute of Connecticut, IRC, LIRS, R&P, reform, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington Caught Neglecting Refugees, Area Churches Say Enough Is Enough

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 29, 2010

The media caught yet another refugee resettlement agency neglecting their refugee clients — USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services. Area churches say enough is enough, that they will no longer allow USCCB to treat refugees inhumanely and ignore refugee program guidelines (see article).

…volunteers from Fredericksburg-area churches unrolled an elaborate welcome mat. But now, church staff and volunteers say enough is enough.

“This is a justice issue,” said the Rev. Larry Haun, pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church. “We don’t want to be understood as being against refugee resettlement. We just think that when they’re resettled, they should be treated according to the guidelines. They should be treated humanely.

“When people are invited here, and when they aren’t given food, when they aren’t given beds, when they aren’t given blankets, that’s injustice.”

It is also a legal issue. Resettlement agencies contract with the federal government and agree to provide beds, blankets, food or money for food, other furniture and linens.

At a meeting in late February, local church leaders asked the U.S. Department of State to stop sending refugees to the Fredericksburg area.

The refugees are invited by the State Department and resettled by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services. The office’s Fredericksburg Refugee Service Center has a satellite location on Butler Road in Stafford County.

The Catholic resettlement agency, after taking an enormous amount of help from local churches and community members, apparently decided to exclude the churches and local volunteers after they started voicing concerns. Refugees said the Catholic agency workers then warned them not to talk to church volunteers about their situations or to take their help.

Newcomers arrived and volunteers did not know–until established refugees told stories of families with little furniture, food or transportation.

Volunteers from several area churches stepped in to help. But they say that they could rarely reach the resettlement office. Resettlement officials said they are protecting their clients’ privacy.

Refugees said they’ve been warned not to talk to church volunteers about their situations or to take their help.

“We tell them: ‘Don’t take free stuff. Work for what you get,'” said Derek Maxfield, associate director of the Arlington Diocese’s Migration and Refugee Services.

Don’t take free stuff?! That’s what the refugee resettlement program is all about — community members donating free stuff and time to help refugees so that the government doesn’t have to do it all alone, otherwise known as the “public/private partnership”. Hello! Apparently the Catholic agency is forgetting that is how they just convinced the State Department to double R&P funding, by claiming that they give too much free stuff and volunteer time, via churches, community groups and other volunteers, and that the government must do more (here).

The Catholic resettlement agency’s warnings to refugees not to speak to volunteers, something we have documented all over the country when we catch an agency neglecting their refugee clients (is it written in their playbook?), is nothing less than a form of intimidation and abuse of vulnerable clients.  Refugee clients should NEVER be used as pawns when refugee resettlement agencies attempt to avoid accountability. Not to mention the refugees’ constitutional right to freedom of association. They may speak to or befriend anyone they wish, despite refugee resettlement agencies treatment of them as second-class citizens.

Seyoum Berhe, director of the Archdiocese of Arlington Migration and Refugee Services, also claims that refugees only get four months of help. Not true. That’s only for refugees enrolled in ORR’s Matching Grant Program (and they can get up to six months help, if the resettlement agency will give it to them, not just four), and refugees enrolled in Matching Grant are able to apply for refugee cash assistance if they are still unemployed after four months (they can get help up to the end of their eighth month). Anyway, only 30% of refugees are in Matching Grant. Most refugees get at least eight months of help if they can’t find a job. Low income refugee families with children can get assistance even longer.

In fact, Berhe compares resettling refugees to raising teenagers. And in the resettlement program, refugees typically have four months to be self-supporting.

“We’re like tough parents,” Berhe said.

Resettlement contracts with the State Department require the basics: furnished homes, English classes and help finding jobs. Financial assistance–which comes through a few federal and state agencies–lasts only a few months.

But many volunteers say refugees require more than what the resettlement workers provide.

So then the question becomes, why did USCCB decide to resettle the particular refugees that they did in Fredericksburg? We know that the VOLAGs meet each month and decide which refugees they will take and where they will resettle them. They meet right there in Arlington at the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center (RPC). Why did USCCB decide to take Burundi and Iraqi refugees and resettle them to Fredericksburg? Is there any local torture center that can help rehabilitate the Iraqi refugees? The Burundian refugees started arriving in large numbers 4-5 years ago. We know they have greater needs than other refugees. Why did USCCB think that Fredericksburg was the right site for them?

When Arlington’s Migration and Refugee Services chose Fredericksburg for resettlement, starting-level jobs were plentiful.

Many refugees found jobs quickly and were able to afford the rents. But as the recession deepened, jobs grew scarce.

At the time, more refugees were coming, and they had greater needs.

For example, those from Burundi in central Africa had spent decades in refugee camps. They often came with little formal education and did not know how to use indoor plumbing, electricity or cars.

And some refugees from Iraq came with severe emotional scars. They needed mental health resources, something already scarce in the area.

….When the national resettlement agencies’ staff decide where to place refugees, they look at communities’ capacity.

Then there is the issue of the federal requirement that local government agencies MUST be consulted about refugee resettlement and placement issues. Is there enough local capacity? In this case the Catholic Church decided to just ignore that requirement, as we see all too often, and the State Department and the ORR apparently didn’t even care enough to enforce their own requirements — once again!

Capacity takes into account social services and nonprofits, schools, health departments and jobs.

School officials, social services directors and health department officials said they were never asked how many refugees they could handle.

Of course we just saw this problem in New Hampshire, where the state refugee coordinator claimed she couldn’t require the local resettlement agencies to coordinate with local government agencies — even though that is what the law requires! (here)

The law/regulations that govern the U.S. refugee resettlement program (45 C.F.R. PART 400—REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM, see 400.5:H) requires that local refugee resettlement agencies meet regularly with local government officials.

 “…the State will…assure that meetings are convened, not less often than quarterly, whereby representatives of local resettlement agencies, local community service agencies, and other agencies that serve refugees meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees’ arrival.”

Also, according to the State Department Cooperative Agreement contract that USCCB signed USCCB must:

“…colaborate with state and local officials, other agencies and services in the area in implementing a plan to rationalize the numbers of refugees to be resettled and to ensure quality services and a welcoming atmosphere are provided to refugees.”

So, where is Virginia’s state refugee coordinator, Kathy Cooper? She’s the director of the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services and supposedly coordinates all of this in Virginia. Now, after the resettlement agency neglected the refugees she says all sides involved in resettlement in Fredericksburg need to talk more. Yeah, but what about the required consultation with local government agencies before resettlement agencies bring refugees in and dump them off? That’s the advantage of following regulations. They tend to be there for a good reason.

The problem we have with government oversight agencies is the same problem we have with the private refugee resettlement agencies — there are no consequences for ignoring regulations and requirements. In the meantime the Congress just keeps rewarding them with more money. This is a recipe for more refugee neglect, more refugee abuse, and more negative articles in the media — something that will both damage more refugees’ lives, and damage the program even further.

See State Department 2007 monitoring. Note that in spite of their inspection and their recommendations, with no penalties imposed not much seems to have changed.

*Update — April 2, 2010 Editorial at Free Lance-Star (here)

Posted in arlington, Burundian, Catholic, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Christian, Cooperative Agreement, faith-based, fredericksburg, funding, government, intimidation of refugees, Iraqi, local officials, failure to notify, mental health, New Hampshire, ORR, R&P, religion, RPC (Refugee Processing Center), State Department, USCCB, Virginia, volunteers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

George Rupp of the IRC claims that all problems in resettlement the result of economy & not enough government funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 19, 2010

Here is a comment (below) we submitted to the Huffington Post in response to an article by George Rupp (head of IRC) and Morton Abramowitz (of the International Crisis Group) that credited the crisis in the refugee resettlement program to too little government funding (here).

Rupp and Abramowitz claimed:

“There is one area of good news, though it emerges only from the very bad experience of Iraqi refugees. The small fraction of educated, skilled Iraqis allowed to come to America-some with help from Iraq War-era friends who served as soldiers, aid workers and journalists — tested our aging refugee-admissions system and found it wanting. Run as a partnership between the U.S. Government and aid resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee, it was originally designed to accept large numbers of Vietnamese, but the government’s share of support for the program had deteriorated over time. Overstretched charities tried to make ends meet, but the economic downturn brought the whole system to the breaking point. Iraq War veterans and other concerned Americans were outraged. As a result, the Obama Administration is reviewing the entire process of how refugees are admitted to the United States and has taken the first critical steps toward repairing it, including more support in the first weeks after they arrive.”

In response we wrote:

The claim that the economic downturn brought the refugee resettlement system to the breaking point does not explain why it was never brought to the breaking point during previous recessions. Certainly Iraqi refugees should not have put much pressure on the system since our government resettled so few of them. One of the biggest outstanding questions is how much private funding the resettlement agencies bring to the resettlement process. They are supposedly required to bring significant private funding to the program, in line with the spirit of the public-private partnership, yet seem increasingly to rely just on government funding.

What would have happened to the program if our government had acceded to the resettlement agencies’ demands two years ago, via their RCUSA lobbying group, that we resettle 105,000 Iraqis per year. Compare this to the 77,000 total refugees we resettled from all over the world in just one recent year alone. The resettlement agencies didn’t have the funds to resettle that many refugees, yet that didn’t stop them from pressuring the government. The fact that most of these refugees may have ended up homeless on our streets did not phase them. Instead they have been successful in pressuring the government to double public funding for initial resettlement services while not promising to offer anything more than the minimal services they have provided for the past few decades.

The resettlement agencies seem to have forgotten their missions as charitable organizations.

Christopher Coen
Friends of Refugees

Posted in Congress, Cooperative Agreement, funding, government, Iraqi, IRC | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The 30th Anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act – Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of the PRM reflects on advancing refugee protection in the 21st century

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 18, 2010

Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of the State Dept’s PRM Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration) has issued remarks in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act (of 1980). He addresses a few paragraphs to the domestic refugee resettlement part of our government’s efforts to help refugees:

….In light of my convictions on this issue, I took special interest in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which resettled about 75,000 persons last year, the highest number since 1999 – after which the program was so significantly impacted by the tragic events of 9/11.                                                                   

Our admissions program must vindicate protection objectives that include the interests of those persons we are resettling, but our goals must be much broader. And, indeed, through or in coordination with our admissions program, we have enhanced the capacity of UNHCR to identify vulnerable communities in need of resettlement, to develop innovative interim protection measures – such as emergency transit centers in many parts of the world – and to use our resettlement programs as a tool to encourage host government policies of greater tolerance. We have also been able to encourage other governments to do more on refugee resettlement issues, and we’ve promoted burden sharing. But again, we can best accomplish these and other objectives when our actions at home are models of good behavior for others to emulate abroad.           

With that element in mind, and early in my tenure, I visited Chicago, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Minneapolis/St. Paul, to learn more about our efforts to meet the resettlement needs of newly arriving refugees – Bhutanese, Burmese, Burundians, Hmong, Iraqis and so many others. What I saw was both heartening and dismaying. It was so gratifying to witness the deep and abiding commitment to refugees among overworked and underpaid agency personnel in the field, the determination of new arrivals, and the welcoming spirit of local school, healthcare and government officials. On the other hand, it was very sad to meet with refugees who had severe problems that go well beyond the challenges that any new arrival should have to confront. I heard from refugees threatened with eviction after only months in the United States. I learned that refugees often had to choose between buying food or diapers for their children. And I spoke with agency field staff overburdened by the number of refugee families they serve and the complexity of the resettlement service needs of recent arrivals.                        

The Reception and Placement Program administered by the Department of State includes a one-time per capita grant for the initial weeks after arrival, but the grant had declined in real terms by more than 50% since its inception some decades ago. This was a major reason for the problems I witnessed, which have been documented and publicized in a variety of assessments over the past year or so. In my own review of this issue, I heard repeatedly from all stakeholders — agencies, congressional staff, and PRM Admissions office officials — that the amount we were providing for this short term support needed to be augmented substantially.       

In light of our critical obligations on these issues, and thanks to the generous support of the Congress, we have now been able to increase the Reception and Placement per capita grant to voluntary agencies and new arrivals from $900 to $1,800, which was made effective as of January 1, 2010. This is intended to address challenges refugees face in their first 30 to 90 days in the United States, and will ensure that, in the first weeks after their arrival, refugees have a solid roof over their heads, a clean bed in which to sleep and basic assistance. This is also an expression of solidarity with the local communities that bear the greatest burden in meeting the initial needs of new arrivals.                                                                        

We well understand that more must be done. And we will be working closely with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to secure additional job training, education and cash and medical assistance in the months that follow initial reception and placement….

We agree with his assessment that our admissions program must vindicate protection goals that include the interests of those persons we are resettling. But the question is, does it? So often, as we have documented on this website, refugee resettlement agencies in this country neglect refugees, leave them on their own without help, cheat them out of government-provided funds, threaten them, and in some cases even abuse them. What message does this send to the public and to the rest of the world? Why haven’t the federal oversight agencies put an end to these abuses?

Also, what does the Assistant Secretary mean when he says he heard from refugees threatened with eviction, “after only months in the United States?” I hope these refugees had received at least 8 months of assistance as provided by the federal agencies. (In the case of Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas [LFSC] we recently learned that Iraqi refugees had no money for rent in December even though they had just arrived in September (here) and (here). What happened to their refugee cash assistance or Matching Grant payments?)

In addition, what does he mean that the amount of the R&P grant money from the State Department ($900 per refugee prior to this calendar year), “was a major reason for the problems [he] witnessed, which have been documented and publicized in a variety of assessments over the past year or so.” How does he know that these problems weren’t, alternatively, caused by resettlement agencies failing to raise enough private assistance and/or by their failure to perform their duties according to the State Department ‘Cooperative Agreement’ contracts that they so willingly signed? It seems that the Assistant Secretary has just bought — hook, line and sinker — the resettlement agencies’ line that all problems are due to a lack of enough government funding.

His explanation for buying into this argument is this: “In my own review of this issue, I heard repeatedly from ALL [emphasis added] stakeholders — agencies, congressional staff, and PRM Admissions office officials — that the amount we were providing for this short term support needed to be augmented substantially.”

Yet, do those groups really represent ALL stakeholders? Which members of Congress did he hear from; just those who are the friends and allies of the refugee resettlement agencies? What about the ideas, insights and opinions of community members?  What about community groups like ours that help refugees and watch the program? What about local government agencies that have been less than impressed with refugee resettlement agencies’ abilities and expertise in dealing with refugee-related issues? What about anybody, even a single person, who had a dissenting viewpoint?

And then finally, this, “…we will be working closely with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to secure additional job training, education and cash and medical assistance in the months that follow initial reception and placement.” So is that it? The solution to problems is just more government funding?

If the Assistance Secretary of the PRM really wants to help refugees then he will make sure that all the new funding comes with added requirements and stipulations for its use, and not simply give resettlement agencies cart blanche to use it as they wish. We’ve seen how that works and it doesn’t work well. The resettlement agencies are moving more and more toward running their operations completely on government funding, while shirking their responsibly to add significant private funding of their own, in keeping with being a true “partner” in the public/private partnership of the refugee resettlement program.

All of this new government funding being heaped on the program needs to come with adequate oversight provisions and mechanisms, or the refugees may not see their circumstances improved at all, and the public will be left with the bill for refugee services that were never provided. The program also needs clear and swift consequences for anyone caught threatening, neglecting or abusing refugees, or attempting to lie to, fool, or cheat the refugees — a occurance that is not uncommon by refugee resettlement workers, and even actively encouraged by management in their attempts to stifle any outside scrutiny of their agencies’ work and lack thereof.

Ending these abuses should be the program’s top priority on this 30th anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act.

Posted in Assistant Secretary of the PRM, funding, government, HHS, Lutheran Family Services of the Carolinas, ORR, PRM, R&P | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee Protection Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 16, 2010

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced the The Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (see here).  The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Daniel Akaka (D-HI).

The measure would change existing asylum policies to ensure more people who need and deserve US protection can benefit from it. It would also make several discrete, yet long overdue improvements in the support provided to refugees newly arrived in the United States. Importantly, the bill would direct the United States government to apply one standard for all asylum seekers intercepted at sea. This would make uniform the treatment of Cubans, Chinese and Haitians attempting to enter America by boat.

Well, I guess this discreteness is somewhat undemocratic, but hopefully Congress intends for it to help legitimate asylees.

The measure would also make other changes in the way asylum seekers are treated. Since 1996, asylum-seekers have had to file an asylum claim within one year of arrival in the United States. This has led to bona fide asylum seekers being denied protection simply because of the deadline, no matter how compelling their asylum cases may be. These asylum seekers are then returned to their countries of origin where they face a real threat of persecution. The Refugee Protection Act would eliminate this one-year deadline.

Well, that makes sense –to allow these asylees to apply for their green cards (permanent resident status) earlier than one year after they have been here. But then why does the bill include a provision for refugee resettlement agencies to get more money each year based on, “inflation and the cost of living”. Isn’t the recent doubling of the State Department’s R&P (Resettlement and Placement) grant enough?

In addition, the bill would ensure that the State Department’s Reception & Placement Grant – the one-time, per-capita grant given to refugees upon arrival in the United States – is adjusted annually to keep up with inflation and the cost of living.

How do we know that the resettlement agencies will use increases directly for the refugees, rather than on salaries, etc? Audits by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General seem to be extremely rare, and resettlement agencies can use “in-kind” donations to refugees of all of the junk-for-Jesus stuff they receive as a type of R&P “direct service” to the refugees. They can then use the R&P grant for other things like salaries, blackberries, wireless internet, etc. (witness Susan Gibson-Wise and LFS in the Carolinas in Greensboro).

It seems that the resettlement agencies have become addicted to easy federal agency funding, and have decided to include sneaky funding increases in every refugee/asylee bill with the help of their allies in Congress. To the extant that we tolerate this, they will just continue these ploys. They must only be given government funding increases IF they agree to verifiable increased services to refugees and asylees, increased government oversight, and openess and transparency to the public.

Easy money is only good for refugee resettlement agencies, not for the refugees.

Posted in asylees, Congress, Haitian, R&P | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »