Below I've included an excerpt and a link to an interesting article although it is over a year old.
Although I have never met Serjanej, I agree with his perspective's and views as reported in the article. I recommend people read the entire article as well as Una Hardester's comments that follow. (For those interested, there is another Una Hardester in Ireland who is a somewhat controversial human rights activist. I doubt very much if there is any connection between that Una Hardester and this one.) For those interested, this Una Hardester was, I believe, an intern from the University at Albany. I do tire of criticizing USCRI-Albany and would prefer to see it become a thriving, healthy organization. However, I mentioned previously that one problem with the organization is that many vital positions are filled by interns who leave after a brief period at the center. This Una Hardester was such an intern. Although in her comments on the article she is quick to point out that Artan Serjanej is no longer a volunteer with the center in Albany, to the best of my knowledge she is not either. She was a full-time volunteer there, when I began teaching English in the summer and was not present when I became an employee in October. Make of that what you will.
I confess I do not know if this program continues. And, for those interested, although Hardester is quick to criticize Sara Foss has a good reputation as a reporter. I wish Hardester had spent some time clarifying facts instead of just accusing the reporter and Serjanej of mis-statements without offering the true facts.
Check out the article and I'll post my personal comments afterwards.
Classes aid men new to the U.S.
Immigrants learn about laws
Sunday, July 6, 2008
By Sara Foss (Contact)
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CAPITAL REGION — Artan Serjanej understands how difficult it can be for new immigrants to navigate the thicket of unfamiliar laws they encounter when they move to America.
Now 43, Serjanej fled the Eastern European country of Albania as a young man, arriving in the United States in 1990. He earned his GED, attended law school and is now an immigration attorney at Tulley Rinckey PLLC in Albany.
Serjanej is leading a series of workshops to help male immigrants understand laws regarding domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse. He has already held two workshops, one for male Congolese refugees living in the Capital Region and another for Arabic-speaking Iraqi male refugees, and more are scheduled for later this summer.
The workshops are part of a new program sponsored by the Albany field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which educates immigrants about their legal rights and obligations in the United States. Future workshop topics include how to handle encounters with law enforcement and how to recognize and report discrimination in housing and job hiring. Workshops for women will also be offered; by the end of the summer, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will have offered workshops for Burmese, Congolese, Iraqi and Afghan clients of both sexes.
The new program, called Legal Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, began two months ago. The workshops have been organized with help from local community groups, such as the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Equinox Inc. Last month, Melanie Trimble, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Serjanej conducted basic civil liberties training with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants staff.
[FOR FULL ARTICLE AND UNA HARDESTER'S COMMENTS CHECK HERE.]
MY COMMENTS FOLLOW:
Domestic violence is a problem among refugees.
Previously, I criticized the concept of trite multi-culturalism. In America we have a belief that people should be treated equally. This is an important principle in our society and although it is easy to criticize the way our actual practices do not always match our ideals, it is also important to acknowledge that we also spend a great deal of time, energy, political effort, media attention and money to try and bring those practices in line with our ideals. For instance, I mentioned previously that I am taking education classes. I am currently immersed in "Introduction to Human Exceptionality," a class that is essentially introduction to special education. In our society, we put our money where our mouth is and spend thousands of dollars on such activities as giving the differentially-abled the opportunity to engage in leisure activities. For instance, we spend, time, money and energy to send the autistic, the blind and the people who lack limbs, skiing essentially for the simple reason that "if everyone else can do it, and the differentially-abled wish to do it, then we should enable and work for them to be able to do it." And, of course, we as a society work towards this goal.
Now, honestly, the more time I spend around refugees the more cynical I become about such activities as assisting the differentially-abled to engage in expensive sports. Quite frankly, the money we spend on assisting such persons with sports could save thousands of lives and make a much more significant difference in the lives of people in the third world, people such as refugees. But the very fact that we do it is wonderful as it does show our commitment to equality and equal opportunity for all people.
In many countries, equality for all people is not even an ideal. I was thinking the other day about why I prefer to spend time around Burmese instead of some of the other ethnic groups that I met at the center. I think part of it is that the Burmese are Asian, which fits in with my academic background, but like most Asians they also have an outlook on life that is distinctly different from many other ethnic groups including Americans. I spent an afternoon recently with a refugee from Africa. I enjoy this person and respect him. And he is interested and working hard to get ahead in American now that he is here. And I would help him do so in some small way. On the other hand, he spent a great deal of time complaining about the very real injustices and atrocities that he was subjected to that led him to being forced to leave his homeland and come here.
The Burmese, by contrast, from what I've seen, don't spend nearly as much time talking about how unfair life is for them. Oh, of course, they do sometimes, but not nearly as much as an American would. Instead, I think, they simply accept the fact that life is unfair and instead focus on what to do about it to achieve the goals they have.
(FYI, just for the record, some people do not understand what a refugee is. A refugee is someone whose life was turned so upside down that they were forced to leave their homeland and go somewhere else, anywhere else, no matter how miserable that place might be. I have seen people meet refugees and ask them, "So how long are you guys here for? When are you going home?" The answer, bluntly, is never, unless things change in a big way in the place they came from. If they go home, there is nothing there. That's why they are here.)
Anyway, many cultures do not have this intense American emphasis on equality and human rights. (In fact, both the Russian and Chinese governments have criticized the US for trying to impose its view of human rights on others. Clearly, this is a complex issue and, although the underlying facts are not black or white, drives right at the heart of why I criticize people who offer trite praise for the concept of multi-culturalism.)
This lack of equality shows up in their family structures. i.e. under Confucianist philosophy, husband and wives were not supposed to be equals and were not supposed to share decision making. Instead the husband was supposed to act like a benevolent, caring dictator who made decisions for his wife but did so in a way that was in her best interests and showed genuine concern for her well-being. Of course, in practice, as anyone who has spent time around Chinese women knows, they do have a way of gaining power and ensuring their needs are met but its usually done behind closed doors and in private. The system itself, however, never was intended to be equal, nor in theory is it seen as desirable that it should be.
Many of the cultures that refugees come from do not see wives in particular as individuals with human rights of their own, but instead as one part of a collective family unit. Different cultures draw the boundaries differently between different people.
(As an aside, for whatever reason, I have had more than my share of instances of walking into violent or near-violent screaming or shoving and pulling matches between (usually American) couples, often, for instance, while working as an EMT or security guard, and when confronted the man occasionally immediately turns to me and says, "But she's my wife." This, of course, makes no sense. I'm sometimes tempted to say to these men, "Well then, would you like me to hold her so you can hit her better?" in order to see if it will bring them back to reality. However, I never have. In some cultures, however, this statement does make perfect sense and does fit the cultural norms.)
And when refugees come to America, this unit and its nominal head, the male father figure, is often put under a great deal of pressure. Often they have been through a wide variety of truly emasculating experiences and are currently undergoing several more, including loss of control due to language problems and a wide variety of economic problems based on inability to find fulfilling employment or even completely understanding how to deal with a power bill. (I recently met one man who was a section leader in a refugee camp in Thailand. This was an elected position that involved running security patrols and arbitrating disputes among one sixteenth of a refugee camp. Clearly he was respected by his peers. In Albany, however, he spent months unemployed due to problems with the language and a lack of perceived transferable skills. This has to be frustrating for him. And, just for the record, to the best of my knowledge he has been dealing with his frustrations and disappointments in a healthy manner, this does not mean everyone does.)
Finally, some people just seek victims and want to take out their tensions on others. Women who don't speak English or understand the system make easy victims sometimes. I wish it was not so. Overworked caseworkers in the social services system or at the refugee center cannot keep tabs on all such people all the time.
For all these reasons, domestic violence is a problem among some refugees and some refugee families. This needs to be acknowledged and
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