Thursday, June 25, 2009

Refugees in Indiana. Article and my comments.

First, a couple posts below, I commented on refugees and light bulbs. With the assistance of the landlord, who did not let me get near his fuse box and insisted on removing the broken lightbulbs himself, the situation was easily corrected. (In fact, the hardest part of the process was explaining the situation to the landlord, especially as he regularly asked his tenants how things were and had no idea that their wall lamps had this problem. My impression was that he takes great pride in his buildings.) The tenants have now been shown how to change lightbulbs although one says they still find the process scary. The other, when asked why they hadn't noted the problem before, shrugged it off, with a grin and "I'm not an electrical expert." Oddly enough, they are both pretty ambitious, intelligent people who in my opinion are on schedule for adjusting to life in the United States, but, I suppose, if you've been through hell and back, what's so bad about sitting in an apartment in Albany where only half the lights work? It's hardly worth risking angering the landlord over, right?

In the meantime, below is an article about Burmese refugee immigration from a TV station in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I've copied it in its entirety, and included all comments. Although I've not seen things in Fort Wayne first hand, it'll be interesting to compare the article with what I've seen.

I've also included the comments, many of which are extremely anti-Burmese refugee. Although, as near as I can tell, there is not much prejudice against Burmese refugees here in Albany, I fear that as their numbers increase, and they are increasing, prejudice will increase. Although it's a fact that many people will adjust to a new challenge, such as refugees arriving in a new, very different country, a certain number will fail at a new challenge. They will then suffer whatever fate meets people who fail, be it jail, welfare, or even death. Appropriate assistance will reduce this rate of failure. Hopefully such programs save money, as jails, welfare, even funeral costs, are all surprising expensive. (In fact, although I have no statistics, I strongly suspect the government saves money by tossing a few hundred dollars per refugee at the local centers and letting young, over-stressed idealists try to cope with the results, instead of just tossing refugees on the street, like was done in the 19th Century. If we still did this, then the cops and social services would need to clean up the mess.) It is my hope that they will get the services and assistance many of them need to make a smooth transition into being a productive part of Capital District society, before notable prejudice arises locally.

Okay comments on the article (in fact, you might want to jump down and read it before you read my thoughts so that they have a context.) The article includes an estimate that for every Burmese refugee placed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, two more arrive. The phenomena is undoubtedly real, although that also implies that a large number of refugees are leaving other places and thereby lightening the load on other placement agencies.

Let's look at this. Refugees, by definition, spend a great deal of time, perhaps years, in a refugee camp. Although refugee camps are terrible places, and within them people post lookouts on their houses each night to protect themselves from threats including Burmese military intelligence agents, Thai police and Thai bigots seeking to rape or brutalize refugees, or other refugees who might enter their house to rape or rob them, most people in a refugee camp do know each other. In fact, since there is very little to do within a refugee camp, one of the primary activities that refugees engage in is to gossip about each other. I once, for instance, heard a very funny story about some refugees I know who loved to gossip and still do (even in the Capital District) gossip constantly. They were in a refugee camp in Thailand, a country where somehow I have never been but they tell me cellphone coverage is dirt-cheap and affordable to even beggars and refugees, and one day had somehow put five different cell phones in a circle so that they could better gossip about their neighbors with as much high-tech efficiency as possible. (It's also worth pointing out that in Burma the news sources are so bad and government controlled that gossip is often a better alternative.)

So you have all these folks sitting in the refugee camp together, it being basically a sort of "small-town-from-hell" where everyone knows each other and their primary focus is to figure out how to get out of there and go live someplace else where life is better. Meanwhile representatives from various NGOs, UN agencies, and foreign governments stop by and set up interviews to see who is lucky enough to get a visa to emigrate to the United States or one of the other nations that takes in refugees. When the process is completed and the papers are approved, they are assigned to a resettlement agency and given appropriate paperwork. In the absence of a relative in the United States (or other destination country) who is willing to assist them, the choice of placement and resettlement site is (as near as I or the refugees can tell) random, although, from what I understand, families are kept together as often as possible. (I'm not sure if the State Department and the local cultures always use the same definition of family though.)

So one person gets a letter giving him the good news that he or she is going to Tuscon, Arizona and another gets a letter stating that they are going to Fort Wayne, Indiana and a third gets a letter stating that they are going to Albany, New York. Soon they are given an airplane ticket, asked to sign papers promising to repay the cost of the ticket over the new few years and sent on a one way trip to a place they've never been and know nothing about, save that it's probably better than where they are because where they are is pretty bad.

[In fact, one real problem with the system is that the refugees know where they are going long before the placement agencies know they will get them. When I worked at USCRI-Albany it was a bit like being involved with a fire department that never seemed able to remember where they had put their hoses. The refugees get notice about a month ahead of time. When they have relatives they would then call these relatives and then tell them they were coming. The relatives would sometimes contact the refugee center and say their relatives were coming. The refugee center would not do anything with this information as it did not come from an official source. The information would then go through the state department, to USCRI national office and eventually make its way to Albany usually less than a week before the refugees would arrive. At this point, people would panic and scream and drop what they were doing and act surprised and start counting tables, chairs and beds and dialing landlords to find the incoming refugees an apartment. This always happened. And the management always acted like it was an unavoidable emergency. It was ridiculous.]

Soon after arrival, most refugees make it a priority to purchase a cell phone. Then they start comparing notes with the refugees they know in other places. (They tend to stay in close touch with the people they knew and often plaster pictures of them all over their walls, so a Burmese refugees apartment is often decorated with pictures of other refugees in locations all over the United States, as well as Thailand and other destination countries all over the world. In fact, I'm proud to say that on at least one of these walls, I am or was the only White person.)

They constantly compare notes on each other's experiences and the procedures of the local refugee center. (My favorite least politically correct statement from a refugee, in reference to the local refugee center and its largely former refugee caseworker staff: "Why don't they replace all the caseworkers with White people? My friend in Minnesota has a White caseworker and he has none of my problems." No comment. Alas, Western humanist notions of multi-culturalism have not yet filtered down to the refugee population in our country, make of that what you will.)

If conditions seem to warrant it, and they can get together the travel expenses, they relocate, particularly if they can be near family. So, after refugees arrive, there is a secondary, reshuffling until they find a place where they wish to settle down and feel comfortable.

The article talks about refugees requiring special assistance. This is indeed the case. And, let me suggest, that such assistance often pays for itself in the long run. Take a person, teach them how to hold a job and use the bus to get to work, and guess what, you can eventually get them off welfare and then tax them instead. Such assistance needs to be appropriate and it needs to be done carefully. Remember there are very intelligent, very ambitious refugees who not only do not know how to change a light bulb but will not think of telling you that they do not know how to change a light bulb. (Hopefully someday I will write about this. In the meantime, there's already a lot here on refugees. Skim the last few months' posts if you want something to read.)

So let's look at the comments on the article. It's a lively debate.

First, healthcare benefits. As I understand it, refugees are eligible for Medicaid and all other benefits a legal resident of the United States is entitled to. Of course, if they didn't have healthcare benefits then people would complain as they would probably not be paying their hospital bills. (Incidentally, I've heard of cases where the local caseworkers have not been as responsive as they should be in assuring that refugees get their healthcare benefits. Some of the local caseworkers are lunkheads.) Incidentally, many refugees are a bit confused on what they receive because they are poor and what they receive simply by benefit of living in the United States. People in this country do, of course, receive many things that are not customary in the third world where refugees come from.

One, for instance, asked me about "my food stamps." When I told him I did not receive food stamps, he asked why not. He was surprised when I told him that not everyone received them and that the idea was that he should receive them for a short time until he found a job and could buy his own food.

Personally I'm irritated by some provisions in the social service benefits that actually discourage people from acquiring any work they can for fear of losing essential benefits, but that's a societal problem that refugees cannot be blamed for.

They do sometimes get pregnant, probably at a rate comparable to in Burma or in the refugee camps. It's a sad fact of life, poor people get pregnant a lot regardless of ethnic background. No comment. After years of griping about this, I can see no good options.

Job training. People are complaining about job training for refugees. Most refugees require training in some extremely basic skills before they can find and keep a job. Among these are how to schedule appointments and what to do when two people wish you to be there at the same time; or how to read a bus schedule; or how to dress for a job.

Are refugees stealing our jobs? Well, let's think about it. All other things being equal, it's probably much easier to hire a worker with whom, unlike refugees, you share a common language and culture. People usually hire refugees with poor English skills, knowing there may be complications due to culture and language gaps, because they cannot find someone with good English skills to take the job at the rate they wish to pay. Most refugees I know have a job. Most them work, however, at jobs or at pay rates where I would not want their job. (I am, for instance, amazed that there actually are not only manufacturing jobs in this area, tucked away here and there, but that some of these jobs pay only about $9.00 an hour or so.) Cleaning, kitchen help, Wal-Mart, etc. are common. Highest paying job I know of a refugee holding is off the books cleaning houses at about 20$ an hour. And, "everyone knows," if you wish someone to clean your house hire an "ethnic," or so they say. Let's face it, the United States economy is now and always has been based in part on low-paid immigrant labor. And since about Day One, there has been someone who has screamed about the immigrants "stealing our jobs." Don't believe me? Go see the film, "Gangs of New York," with its depiction of 1860s anti-Irish immigrant violence.

Now here's a great comment:
"Why take in so many at one time? There's an apartment complex on the southside of town is 99.7% is Burmese and our housing addition property value is certainly going down,if you could see how they live,all you would say is WOW! they need major teaching on living in the city and in a hurry.There's constantly a request to help the Burmese,if they need so much help why are they constantly getting drunk,driving their cars fast and wrecking them,and this happens within the complex."

The writer is basically saying that the refugees clearly need help, but should not be given any because they behave as if they need help.

For the record, I have not seen drinking at a higher rate among the refugees than among other people. I will write more about their driving later. The way they live, yes, there are things that should be addressed. Again some other time. (Meanwhile check out the last few months posts if you want to know more.) They do take things out of the garbage, when there are good looking things in the garbage. I do this too. Sometimes people throw away surprisingly useful things. On the other hand, Burmese refugees tend to have more difficulty in recognizing useful things (like usable television and computers, as compared to junk ones), and therefore often wind up with junk that they are then confused about how to dispose of. It is not uncommon to find a refugee living in an apartment with two broken television sitting in the backyard.

Oh well, my post, my comments in summary, let me share the following. The last comment on the article: "
ngo · 1 day ago
but you have to understand why immigrant country become powerful. and strong."

Undoubtedly came from an Asian, probably a Burmese refugee trying to defend his situation and defuse hostility, and doing so outside of the correct cultural framework. Some assume that having seen war first hand, the Burmese refugees might be left leaning pacifist types. In fact, they wish to live in a strong, powerful country where they will be protected. A surprising number are interested in military enlistment, although the ASVAB (armed services vocational aptitude test) English score is beyond them and many could use coaching on standard test taking strategies.

My two cents or more,



http://www.wane.com/dpp/news/local_wane_ftwayne_Burmese_refugees_adjust_to_new_life_200906220028_rev1

Burmese refugees adjust
to new life
500 more expected this year

Updated: Tuesday, 23 Jun 2009, 6:20 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 23 Jun 2009, 12:29 AM EDT

* Aishah Hasnie

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - The Burmese refugee population continues to rise in Fort Wayne, but city leaders believe they have the experience to handle it.

Over the years, refugees have always trickled into Fort Wayne, but recently the city has seen a dramatic jump in the population. In 2007, nearly 600 Burmese refugees resettled to Fort Wayne. Catholic Charities and Friends of Burma provided aid as the city turned into the Burmese refugee capital of the U.S.

"We weren't ready at that time, to be honest with you," says Cherise Dixie, the City's Southeast side advocate. "But I think since that time, we've done a great job of assessing what is available in the community."

The Burmese community is one that rapidly continues to grow. For every Burmese person that comes here straight from a refugee camp, two others arrive from within the U.S. There are about 6,000 living in Fort Wayne now. And it's expected, 500 more will arrive this year.

"They tend to follow where their families are," says Dixie. "So we have second migrants."

When it comes to adjusting to life in America, city leaders say the refugees are making progress; better progress than when they first started coming to Fort Wayne years ago. That's largely because the city now has some experience under its belt. So much so, other cities in the same boat are calling Fort Wayne to ask how it handled the sudden influx.

But there are still huge challenges ahead. For example, many can't speak English, aren't educated about basic activities like using the bus system, and have a hard time finding work without any special skills.

"They were farmers, villagers, more of a third world existence," says Meg Distler, Executive Director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation. "So the transition into our economy is a really big step."

It's why the Community Resource Center for Refugees on South Calhoun St. opened its doors in December, 2008. With 11 different programs to choose from, refugees can get medical check ups, work on their English, and learn skills like sewing. Distler believes it is providing hope for those who arrived here with nothing.

If you would like to help the Burmese refugee community, you can find out how by calling the Burmese Advocacy Center at (260) 456-8969.


Comments (25)


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FW Health Care's avatar

FW Health Care · 2 days ago
They are too taxing to the healthcare system. Welfare enrollments are already taxed trying to care for our own, and we should not have the burdens discussed in this article.
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The Dude · 1 day ago
Exactly what health care benefits do you think they are receiving? They get nothing except help from a non-profit organization that is privately funded and churches. They are also not eligible for welfare. The way Fort Wayne helps the Burmese immigrant population is one of the reasons we won the "All American City" award. The words written at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty "Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free" apply to Fort Wayne just as much as it applies to the rest of the country. If you view these people as a burden the something is wrong with your outlook on life. Someone from some far away land manages to make their way here to flee war and civil violence, and the first thing you think of is money? Grow up and stop confusing money with humanity.
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FW Health Care · 1 day ago
The Dude, please check your facts, as they are eligible for Medicaid, they are birthing children in a society where we are ablidged to care for the children, which I support, but what I don't support is not holding them responsible for there actions. They need to gather employment, and be held accountable for there family members that they bring here financially. If you can't feed em, don't breed em.
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The Dude · 1 day ago
I don't think you should breed them either- ignorance might be genetic.

Medicaid is not welfare.

It takes a sick and self centered individual to worry about money when the well being of another person is on the line. These people are escaping war- 12 year old kids are carrying around machine guns and leading their own army's. Anyone who is fortunate enough to get out of there doesn't need grief from a penny pincher cheapskate like you.

Whats money when it comes to the survival of people in danger? Did you complain when bush spent $3 Trillion on the Iraq war to "Liberate" them? I'd rather spend that money on people that have made their way here to the United States and are now part of our society.
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FW Health Care · 1 day ago
That's you're problem, you spend your time watching Obama promise Change, instead of listening to the Congressional hearings currently going on referring to health care reform. Our system is broke, are you paying into support it?, well I am as a tax payer who is taxed for the more I make, I will not put up with continuing to work harder, just so others can continue to get free healthcare, and other amentities that I can't afford because I am responsible in supplying for my family. Welfare is government assistance, and Medicaid is our socialized health care system that has and is continuing to fail. I have no problem paying into a Medicare system, as these individuals worked for a living and payed into a system to insure there health support later in life.
This is not really specific to the Burmese, as they are coming to the country through the proper channels, legally, this should be opened up on a discusion of illegal immigrants, as they are the more taxing to our current system.
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The Dude · 1 day ago
Really....still all you care about is money? Your concern is how much $$$ its costing the government? Either you are broke as a joke or you are so worried about counting pennies that you decided to count the governments pennies also? The money is going to get spent reguardless.... it might as well help people in need instead of paying for make believe war games in Iraq.
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An American · 1 day ago
Here! Here! Good words, to be sure! I also agree that as long as the immigration is orderly and legal process is followed, then I'm glad that Fort Wayne is opening its doors to these folks. The city is leading with the spirit that made us a great nation to begin with...this country wasn't founded and built for W-A-S-Ps only! We only solidfy our position as the most generous nation on the planet when we reach out to the rest of the needy world.
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U.S. Citizen · 1 day ago
But the statue doesn't say to take homes from those who were here first or jobs or give them disability when they haven't paid any taxes before getting it or taking away the rights of others here. Send them home, we can't afford them.
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The Dude · 1 day ago
Who do you know that's being left out in the cold because of a Burmese refuge?
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Mary · 18 hours ago
What about the whites, blacks and hispanic that don't work? They surely are not paying taxes and we are taking care of them. Burmese refugees are very hard workers and when they get the communication skills I'm sure they will put some of the americans to shame because they are not afraid of labor. The children are hard workers in school and very intelligent. So "U.S. Citizen" support them now and they will show you they are better then the whites and blacks and hispanics living on welfare, because the want to work. Our people have come to find welfare and even disability as a way of life. So many Americans have learned the system and they know that they can get away with not working. We have VERY LAZY Americans, let the Burmese teach our people what work is all about don't be afraid of them they could teach you a few things maybe even compassion!!! Lord nows you need it.
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0041 · 2 days ago
I say welcome, as long as they immigrated legally. Sure, it will be a slow start at first trying to integrate into American society. . . but they'll learn English and valuable work skills and, over time, become very productive citizens, just like most of our ancestors who immigrated here. And with the Community Resource Center for Refugees, that will help move the process along faster.
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Jim · 2 days ago
I am married to an immigrant and I had to provide financial responsibility prior to her being let into the United States. I am wondering why the new immigrants are not required to use their sponsors for health care and welfare, as My wife was. The generosity of the sponsors, for whatever reason, includes the responsibility to provide for it.by Federal immigration laws. It makes one wonder why laws are selectively enforced.
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An American · 1 day ago
I am married to an immigrant as well, and have had to go through the same hassle you describe. I'd submit, though, that we as the EXTREMELY blessed nation we are, bear some responsibility for helping those in need. We can't help everyone, and our own family's shouldn't suffer in the name of charity. Note my comment below to Christine, though...we might whine and complain about the $1500 - $2000 for the Green Card process, we can at least wake up without worrying that we'll be killed for our beliefs and/or watch our children suffer under cruel and corrupt governments.

To those who much is given, much is required.
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Gab · 2 days ago
Ridiculous state of affairs.....no wonder we are all going bust!
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Christine · 1 day ago
I don't undestand why we are educating and training others for jobs before our own. So many people are out of work now a days. We pay through the wefare and healthcare I know people (americans) who can't even get free healthcare through our government but these people can. What happened to taking care of your own first then worrrying about someone else. Our own are suffering more than the refugees.
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An American · 1 day ago
You need to see how the other 95% of the world lives. We, as Americans, don't know what real pain, suffering, and poverty is. Yeah, jobs are tough and the economy is taking its toll. Still, we don't have our children dying of hunger and an armed militia going around to our tents putting guns to our heads or raping women or young girls. No matter how bad it gets, our "suffering" can't compare to what many people in the world live in every single day.
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Open-hearted · 1 day ago
My church has sponsored a Burmese family, and was assisted by Catholic Charities in bringing them to Fort Wayne. The church has picked up the bulk of the family's living expenses, including housing, utilities and food. Church members take care of transporting them to and from church, and make arrangements to take them shopping for essentials, such as food and clothing. Many of these immigrant families arrive with little more than the clothing on their backs and hope that they can live a less fearful life.

To say that 'our own are suffering more than the refugees' is ignorant. If these families were not allowed to immigrate, they would be facing war, death, rape, and starvation. I don't see many Americans facing the same issues under the same set of circumstances. We are called to minister to everyone, not just Americans. And why can't the Burmese (and any other refugees for that matter) be 'our own'? If other, more able, families moved to Fort Wayne, they would then be considered ours. Why can't the less fortunate be considered ours, too? After all, we are all human beings...
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Southside homeowner · 1 day ago
Why take in so many at one time? There's an apartment complex on the southside of town is 99.7% is Burmese and our housing addition property value is certainly going down,if you could see how they live,all you would say is WOW! they need major teaching on living in the city and in a hurry.There's constantly a request to help the Burmese,if they need so much help why are they constantly getting drunk,driving their cars fast and wrecking them,and this happens within the complex.
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An American · 1 day ago
I understand cultural differences. Though my wife's from China, you'd be surprised how she even views urban/suburban living here in the US. Much of its education and adapting to a new culture and our "way" of doing things. If the Burmese are doing illegal things, damaging property, whatever, then they bear responsibility. Like one of the other posters said, though, it will take time.

I, too, live on the sout side of Fort Wayne. My home has lost value and I'm not near an apartment complex of any kind. Our fellow Americans can take credit for trashing this part of town and making it look like a minature ghetto in places. Like Dude said, either way, Obama and our government will ensure we pay for subsidizing those who don't have what those of us who work hard and pay taxes do have; it's not conjecture - he stated his intention to "redistribute wealth". That's not the issue...what is the issue, though, is that if we're going to be forced into "helping", I'm going to do it on my own terms and help those who DESERVE it, and will truly benefit.
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Mary · 18 hours ago
99.7%? That is a very high number and I am pretty sure that is way to high! I have been over there and there are several whites, blacks and even hispanic. The burmese moving into those apartments are not what is bringing your property value down. It is the area in general that is not being taken care of. The shootings, the fights many things go on in that complex and it is not Burmese related. Sorry you need to open your eyes and look around you and not at the Burmese they are not the problem. Do you think they want to live in those type of conditions? I think not. Give them time and they will move up in the world. I have great faith that they will teach many of us Americans more than we will teach them.
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SE homeowner · 1 day ago
I agree! I also live on the south side and the apartments they have moved them into are a mess now. Trash everywhere, kids running and playing in the roads, etc. Why not move some into the SW community or North? Because it doesn't matter if those of us who live on the SE side lose more of our property value but those in the "better" communities would not have it. I am all for helping but it appears to me they bring them here, drop them off and leave. Where is someone to teach them the way to live and be respectful of your community? The only thing I see is them walking across Anthony or driving recklessly to get to CVS to buy some alcohol.
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Jack · 1 day ago
I work with several of them and have for over a year now and very few of them can still speak English or won't.
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FELICIA · 1 day ago
Why are they coming to Fort Wayne especially on the south side of town? I used to lived in the Anthony apartments. I have seen the Burmese children climb in the dumpsters to get out of furniture people don't want anymore. The children have to take the ISTEP testing even though they don't know any English. Their scores are represent with are children schools.
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ngo · 1 day ago
the same thing south side is more cheaper than north side. that is since before they come . why is that?
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ngo's avatar

ngo · 1 day ago
but you have to understand why immigrant country become powerful. and strong.

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