Saturday, June 13, 2009

Salt Lake Tribune: Today's Refugees face harsher adjustment

I saw this and thought it was worth sharing. This fits in with what I have seen.

Like a lot of things, refugee resettlement is not done in a terribly well-thought out, systematic manner. I've decided just to insert the article as is. Should people wish to follow the non-working links, and I hope they do, I suggest they use my link to the main article and then follow the links from within the Salt Lake Tribune website. There's a lot there and the articles present a well balanced picture of the situation.

http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_10678040



Today's refugees face harsher adjustment as program funding, flexibility lag
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 06/12/2009 05:32:38 PM MDT

Tan Ly and his wife Beverly pose for a photo inside Kim Long restaurant in Layton. Tan Ly was one of the boat people refugees from Vietnam in 1979 who resettled in Utah. (Scott Sommerdorf /The Salt Lake Tribune)
Tan Ly was just 19 in May 1979, when, late one night, he squeezed onto a 28-foot boat with 453 other people fleeing Vietnam.
For five days, he sat shoulder to shoulder with other refugees as the boat rolled over the South China Sea toward Malaysia. There was no food, no bathroom. Thai pirates stopped the boat twice, stripping Ly and other passengers of everything but their underwear.
Ly and his father, Hoang Tuoi Ly, lived for months in a jungle island refugee camp in Malaysia before heading for the U.S. When they finally arrived on a winter morning at Salt Lake City International Airport, Ly wore camp-issued flip-flops, a woman's blouse and slacks.
"We would do anything
Where the system fails:
# THE SAFETY NET: Where is it failing?
# THE PAST: More federal funding, services made life easier
# NEW ARRIVALS: An Iraqi family's first six months
# HOUSING: The biggest financial burden
# CASEWORKERS: Too few to manage enormous need
# EDUCATION: Schools pick up the pieces
# TEENAGERS: Two siblings survive differently
# DIAPERS: Refugee moms can't afford them
# HSER NER MOO: Moving forward after her murder
# EMPLOYMENT: LDS Church provides jobs, training
Learn more about refugees:
# How can you help?
# Where do Utah's refugees come from?
# Multimedia: A Burundi family at home
# Multimedia: The Hasan Family
# Refugee housing shortage report (.pdf)
# Tribune Editor Nancy Conway: My journey to Uganda
for freedom," says Ly, now a chief engineer at Hill Air Force Base who, by all measures, has achieved the American dream.
His experience, though, is not shared by many of today's refugees. More and more, they fail to attain even a shadow of the American dream. Ill-equipped for the United States' tough-love approach that expects quick assimilation, many live in poverty. Hope for a better life soon turns to despair.
"Most of the refugees from Burma are saying, ... 'We want to go back,' " says Zaw Htike of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, who works with fellow Burmese.

Refugee challenge
That sentiment is alien to Ly, one of the "boat people" who came to the United States just before refugee resettlement became a formal governmental program.
"I will live and die for this country any day," says Ly, who just 13 years after his arrival had worked his way through college, secured a job on base, built a home on Layton's east bench and met and married another Vietnamese refugee, Beverly Quy.
Driven by a sense of responsibility and pushed by necessity as refugees fled
Per capita refugees in the United States. (PDF)
a Southeast Asia destabilized in our failed effort to stop the march of Communism, Congress passed the Refuge Resettlement Act of 1980. The act, which replaced an ad hoc welcome mat that had grown increasingly threadbare, has since allowed 2.4 million refugees to settle in the U.S., with 207,000 refugees arriving in the peak year, 1980, and 27,119 in the year after Sept.11, 2001. This year, about 60,000 are expected. Nearly 1,000 refugees arrived in Utah the past fiscal year.
Refugees who fail today do so for assorted reasons, but much of the problem boils down to this: The 28-year-old program is simply inadequate, structurally and financially, to the task of assimilating today's diverse refugees who range from
illiterate Africans to educated Iraqis to Burmese who have spent generations in refugee camps.
The resettlement program, once guided by just a couple pages of rules, is now bound by regulations 4 inches deep. There's little flexibility just when it is needed most for the resettlement agency caseworkers, who encounter refugees speaking dozens of languages and needing all varieties of help.
"When there were more resources in the program as a whole, we could tailor the program," says Lavinia Limon who has worked in refugee resettlement for 30 years, including a stint as head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She is president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, one of voluntary agencies (volags) that get federal money to settle refugees.
While a Burundian family might benefit most from "adoption" for a year by a family or church that could teach and reinforce life skills, an Iraqi family might need money for first month's rent plus help finding a job.
"The one-size-fits-all thing doesn't work," says Elizabeth Campbell, director of The Refugee Council, a coalition of nonprofits.
Norman Nakamura of the Utah Department of Workforce Services says that during the 1980s and 1990s, resettlement agencies needed caseworkers proficient in just five or six languages. The 338 refugees who arrived in Utah through August this year came from 13 countries.
"The worker you have hired today might not be the right language or culture for the people coming in tomorrow," Nakamura says. "That puts a tremendous stress on the system."
Moreover, funding to help refugees gain a toehold has dropped dramatically, considering inflation. "We are simply not serving people the way we were," Limon says.
Years ago, each refugee got $500 at the outset for rent, food, clothes and utilities, in addition to other noncash aid. Adjusted for inflation, the amount would be $3,500 today. Instead, each refugee today gets $425. "This is pathetic," Limon says.
The two agencies bringing refugees to Utah -- Catholic Community Services and International Rescue Committee -- keep another $425 to pay caseworkers' salaries and other overhead.

Limited support
Some reforms undertaken over the years, including a push toward self-sufficiency through the 1990s that forced refugees off welfare and into jobs quicker, have had mixed results.
Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, says that while some groups have had more trouble than others, "By and large, it's been successful."
A gentler approach didn't do people any favors, she says. "The longer you left people out of the labor market, the more difficult it became to enter it ... to come to grips with life in laissez-faire United States."
Nakamura says the change, though, has been especially hard on refugees such as the Burmese, who have been "warehoused" for two decades in refugee camps and make up more than a third of Utah's refugees this year. It takes them longer to be ready for work, he says.
Moreover, Congress doesn't give the states all the money needed to provide even the shortened duration of welfare, he says. "It's never enough to meet the needs," he says.
The refugee program has been neglected for a number of reasons, Limon says. Support from the American public, while still strong, has eroded.
"People are more anti-foreign," she says. "When we were in the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were and anyone fleeing Communism was alright by us."
It's harder to articulate who we want to rescue these days.
While there is no national effort pushing reform, critics say fundamental change is needed.
Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, says resettlement agencies are a "refugee industry," more about making money than helping refugees get settled.
"They are federal contractors. They are not charities," he says.
In some cities, fraudulent subagencies suck up refugees' rent subsidies, he says. And he points to federal figures showing that for their first five years in this country, a higher proportion of refugees are on welfare than are Americans born here.
"The biggest flaw is the lack of responsibility and accountability," Barnett says.
Barnett favors a return to a time when refugees were sponsored by families, churches or other organizations -- and were not funded by the federal government.
That was the essentially the system Ly and his father entered when they arrived in Salt Lake City in February 1980.
A resettlement agency put them up for two days at a motel, then they moved in with a Layton family. Within a week, the family helped them move into an apartment, get jobs at a nursery, learn to ride the bus and enroll in English classes.
Limon, the longtime refugee advocate, bristles at suggestions that resettlement agencies' work should be funded entirely by charity.
"If America as a nation has decided that bringing refugees to our shores is good, why would we expect it all to be done without any taxpayer money?" she asks.

Troubled resettlement
Some critics of refugee resettlement are those who have witnessed turmoil in their communities.
Ann Corcoran lives near Hagerstown, Md., which stopped accepting refugees after residents put up a fuss. She now writes a blog critical of refugee resettlement.
"It's out of hand," says Corcoran, who contends that, increasingly, refugees are resettled without any notice in smaller towns. She suggests assessments similar to environmental impact statements should be required before refugees move in.
When clashes erupt, as they have in Emporia, Kan., Waterbury, Conn., and Shelbyville, Tenn., it's often because longtime residents resent being left out of the loop -- and seeing jobs go to people willing to work for less, she says.
Corcoran also objects to the number of Muslim refugees who have resettled in the United States in recent years because she worries about cultural clashes on the scale of those seen in Europe.
Refugee advocates say the religious beliefs of the refugees makes no difference.
"Our entire society is built on an immigrant history," Campbell says.
Newland, at the Migration Institute, says polls consistently show support for refugee resettlement.
Most Americans "like the idea of us as a nation of refuge," she says. "As long as people feel the system is not gamed or taken advantage of, they've been supportive."

kmoulton@sltrib.com

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