Thursday, July 23, 2009

Refugees and domestic violence

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)
Gazette Reporter

Text Size: A | A | A

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.



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


  1. Hi Peter,
    I hate to bear bad news, but I'd beleive that the two Unas are one and the same. However, I would like to point out that Ms. Hardester did not begin her advocacy career until after she had returned to Ireland to confess and atone for her childhood wrongs. As an Irishman who watched proceedings in the local media, I am convinced, as are a sizable number of people here in Ireland, that Una did what she could to right her serious errors. On the breaking of the story here, some columnists (including the odious Peter Myers) decided to hatchet her as a way of furthering their case against feminism, and to advocate men's rights in rape cases. Her advocacy and volunteer work can be taken as signs that she is not willing to sit back and watch when she can act for what she beleives in.

    As for the rights and wrongs of her views, that is for the individual reader to decide. I only wish to add that the controversy which her childhood wrongs have caused hold no bearing on the young activist's work or her views, and I would hope that it wold be placed as seperate. Otherwise we are all in fear of our careers for something we did when we were 10.

    One of the side effects of the controversy, which really begs a discussion on cause and effect on the internet, is that I reckon Una would be happy to converse and explain herself here, however vitriolic attacks to her would ensue that would cause the main point to be lost.

  2. RE:

    "According to the neighbour, 10-year-old Una Hardester was in a terrible condition when she arrived at the house that day. It was around 4pm on 27 January 1997."

    That would make this Una about 22 which could be the same person. I've only met Una Hardester once or twice and honestly cannot tell if it is the same person based on the photo of her available on the internet.

    Quite honestly, although in the 1990s I was very involved in the cause of false sex abuse accusations, and do believe that it is completely possible that almost anyone anywhere can be accused and even convicted falsely of this terrible crime, and therefore feel great sympathy for the accused and am glad he's been freed, I do not think this is the proper forum for further discussion of the case. Should people feel otherwise however then I will not delete their posts.

    I would prefer instead though that any discussion in this forum focus instead on issues such as reducing domestic violence among refugees. But, as I said, I will not delete posts on this issue should people wish to add them. According to the press, as an adult Una Hardester admitted her guilt sometime ago and therefore I believe the only important lesson that can come from this is that 10 year olds sometimes lie about these things and innocent men can and do get sent to prison because of them.

    As an aside, in the 1990s when I became involved in the issue of false abuse and false sex abuse accusations, I spent a great deal of time complaining about "man-hating feminists" who establish anti-male policies using domestic violence and child abuse issues as a tool to do so.

    Therefore I was quite relieved when I recently had a discussion with a local domestic violence hotline person who said, and I agree with her completely, that domestic violence really is about control and domination by one partner over another (which I would describe as "domestic abuse"), and not necessarily about dysfunctional couples who make a practice of engaging in mutual bouts of violence (which I would describe as "domestic violence"). The first time I heard this distinction it came from Marc "Animal" MacYoung, the flamboyent but very insightful self-defense author.

    Thank you for your comments. I hope you will check out more of the blog and leave other comments as well,

    Peter Huston

  3. I've decided that unless comments on Hardester have some direct bearing on refugee issues they will be removed. I will let the current one stand because I do think it is important that more people realize that children do bear false witness against adults at child sex abuse trials and that innocent people can be convicted of terrible crimes they never commited through such false testimony of child witnesses. (Need further evidence? Do a google search on some key words or take a trip to the library, or contact organizations like VOCAL (Victims Of Child Abuse Laws) or the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Once you tap into the right vein, you'll meet many people who have been put through hell by this means and are quite willing to tell you what it's like.)

    This case isn't even terrible special, sad as it sounds, save to the people directly involved.

    As for the issue of holding an adult accountable for actions committed while ten years old, let me ask you this question. Why does society not execute ten year olds when they commit crimes? Why also does society deem it immoral and illegal for an adult to engage in consensual sexual acts with a ten year old? Because they are immature, their brains are not yet fully developed and they show demonstrably poor judgement in a wide variety of situations. Therefore, using the same assumptions, in my opinion, the matter should be put to rest and will not be hashed out in these pages.

    Quite frankly, I can't for the life of me figure out what c_jay_ie was thinking when she posted the above statement and then seemed to say that people shouldn't pay attention to it anyway because it was a long time ago.

  4. Peter,

    This is Una Hardester. I am no longer with USCRI, so I am writing this exclusively as a private individual:

    1) My objection to the article was its mischaracterization of Rights and Responsibilities workshops. Through these workshops, which were part of USCRI Albany's Preferred Communities programming, my colleagues and I sought to educate newly resettled refugees about a broad range of legal issues, from tenant's rights under New York State and federal law, to discrimination in employment and housing, to the limits placed on the actions of law enforcement, to family law. The primary emphasis was on recognizing and fighting discrimination, especially in housing. In fact, the Rights and Responsibilities series was devised in response to the increasing number of housing discrimination complaints the office had been receiving from refugee clients.

    Prior to resettlement, refugees frequently experience serious discrimination and harassment from local authorities in their countries of asylum. Many refugees are also members of ill-treated minority groups in their home countries, and have lived with discrimination, social exclusion, and violent persecution all their lives. Countless times, clients told me that being discriminated against based on ethnic background, religion, political views and nationality was just “part of life,” something they accepted. I found this resignation profoundly sad, and so did others at the office. Rights education should be part and parcel of the resettlement process, and resettled refugees should know that they have recourse if their rights are violated.

  5. With this in mind, my colleagues and I organized the Rights and Responsibilities programming to give our clients the tools they needed to understand and defend their rights. In the weeks and months after the workshops concluded, numerous clients came to me with stories about how they used the knowledge they gained in workshops to help themselves and others in their communities recognize and fight discrimination. Two clients even sought and received assistance from the Albany United Tenants Association when a landlord attempted to harass several refugee families out of the building they lived in. With the help of the United Tenants Association, the matter was resolved in a manner that left all parties satisfied, and the refugee families remained in their homes.

    Artan Serjanej was a volunteer only for a few workshops, and my colleagues and I found his comments to Foss insensitive and offensive; that is why he was not asked to volunteer again. Though the resettlement process is extremely stressful, refugees are no more likely to commit crimes, against their family members or anyone else, than citizens born and raised in this country. However, many refugees do lack understanding of how issues like violence against women and neglect of children are dealt with through the American legal system. In addition to linguistic barriers, it is this lack of understanding --not a greater than average propensity for violence-- that makes refugees vulnerable. Thus, the topics covered in the family law workshops included the basics of US family law, the distinction between adult and juvenile justice, and resources available locally to victims of sexual assault, gender-based violence, and human trafficking.

    Many refugees are profoundly distrustful of law enforcement because of their experiences with abusive and corrupt police in their home countries and countries of asylum. I have yet to meet an Afghan or Burmese refugee without a story about being extorted, harassed or unlawfully detained by police. Encountering law enforcement, most likely under benign circumstances, is something refugees will inevitably deal with in the United States. Some of the Rights and Responsibilities workshops addressed what police can and cannot do, and how one should act when encountering law enforcement officers. The aim of these workshops was to set refugees’ minds at ease, to let them know that, under our laws, there are limits to what police can do –that, for example, refugees will not dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night, beaten, and forced to pay bribes, something far too many USCRI clients experienced firsthand before they were resettled in this country.

  6. 2) I was with USCRI Albany from February 2008 to September 2008 as the interim outreach coordinator. After I left, my scope of work was taken over by Jen Barkan and her interns. Resource development was not yet funded at USCRI Albany during my time there.

  7. 3) Your blog is your domain, and you may certainly write whatever you wish here. However, if you would like to volunteer in an official capacity for any refugee resettlement organization in the future, I suggest you refrain from writing posts (like your most recent one) that attack individual refugees or categories of refugees. In my opinion, such posts are in poor taste, and may be considered a violation of trust.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Due to a lack of technological savvy, should anyone wish to see my response please click here: