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Don't say I didn't tell you so, but...Posted Wednesday, March 5, 2008, at 11:08 AM
As many of you well know, I took a lot of heat for my opinions about how the refugee resettlement program has handled the introduction of Somalis into our society, and particularly, the lack of help these folks get once they are deposited in this country.
This story came to my attention last night and deals with another group of refugees that have been left high and dry by the very people that brought them here.
WATERBURY -- The U.S. State Department has temporarily halted the International Institute of Connecticut from processing any more refugees because of failures in the way Burmese refugees were resettled here.
The refugees in question are the Karen, a group that has endured horrific persecution in their home country. Their plight was featured in the hyper-violent Rambo movie that recently hit theaters. These poor folks are in the same boat as our Somali neighbors: They have had little to no exposure to our culture and practically no knowledge of how to function in modern society, yet they are expected to be able to support themselves within a few months of living in this country.
The suspension caps months of confusion and anger among refugees and local volunteers trying to help the refugees, members of the ethnic Karen minority of Burma, acclimate to the U.S. Nearly half of the original 64 refugees who came to Waterbury were housed in substandard apartments for three months until the institute moved them to better quarters. Several refugee children were not enrolled in school within the 30-day period required by contract. Other children faced exclusion from middle school because their immunizations were not up to date. Older refugees did not receive appointments for a variety of medical problems, varying from poor eyesight and deafness to one man with an ill-fitting prosthetic leg.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Another part of the article states:
Many volunteers said the institute had been "rude" and "abrasive" to volunteers. JoAnne Robertson, of First Congregational Church of Watertown, said she called Oliver in January to ask how church members, who'd been delivering supplies to the refugees, could help. She said Oliver told her "the less you do, the better off (the refugees) are."
They're discouraging volunteer help? What in the world is wrong with these refugee agencies? The next paragraph could have very well come from one of my articles:
Typically, resettlement agencies rely on community support, in part because the federal resettlement policy is heavily based on economic self-sufficiency. Refugees are often at work within days of leaving a camp. The State Department gives a one-time, $850 per person stipend to the individual agency. Of that money, half must be used for the refugees and half goes to administrative costs. The cash is expected to last 90 days, during which the refugees are expected to get a job and independence.
Read the entire article and check the links to other articles on the Karen in Waterbury. Like the Somalis, the Karen have spent most of their lives in squalid refugee camps and they are suddenly expected to adjust to a totally alien environment and be able to support themselves in our country within weeks or months. How in the world do those in the government expect the Burmese, the Somalis and other refugees to support themselves with no knowledge of the language, culture and especially the bureaucratic maze of dealing with the government or things like paying utilities, a common thing for you and me, but something new for people who have never seen a light switch.
Shelbyville is obviously not the only town facing these type of refugee problems. As long as the State Department keep dumping these poor folks on small communities without the proper support, we are likely to see more of the situations that I reported back in December.
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Brian Mosely is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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