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Your reactions and others to the refugee issuePosted Tuesday, March 25, 2008, at 11:17 AM
I was just looking over the comments posted on my two stories published yesterday about the Somali event at MTSU last Thursday and I have some thoughts. First, I'd like to thank one of our own bloggers, Chantal Rich, for posting information about the event, because, for some reason, the PR department at the school didn't know anything about it until I called them.
After researching and covering this issue over the past few months, I can safely say that the topic of the Somalis in Shelbyville really pushes some buttons with a lot of people. Late yesterday, a lady came to our offices to complain about our front page. She was upset that the photo and story about a civic leader who passed away this weekend was not as large as the photo of the two Somalis right next to it. However, she apparently neglected to take into account the image of the Red Hat lady at the bottom of Monday's edition, which was larger than any of the other photos on the page. Unfortunately, she left the impression with the ladies up front that the true issue was not the size of the photos, but rather the very inclusion of the refugees in the paper.
This is not the first time someone has taken issue with the mere fact we put these refugees on the front page. When the series first ran, we took some grief from several people because the five part series ran during Christmas week. It appears to me that some folks would rather we didn't run anything at all on the Somalis and pretend like they simply don't exist.
But then there was the other call I got yesterday that gave me pause. It was from a lady that lives in the apartment complex with the Somalis and she was terrified. Sobbing, she told me how all her tires had been slashed and that she was afraid for her safety, the safety of her sister and their pet. Her various tales about life there were nearly identical to what one of our regular readers related about his experiences at the apartment complex in question. She claimed that she had reported the vandalism to the authorities, but since they saw nothing, no charges could be pressed. She was not satisfied with the response of law enforcement, to say the least ...
"Where are my rights?" is what she asked me repeatedly. "They've got more rights than me and I was born and raised in this country!" I had no answer for her, but passed along some phone numbers she requested so hopefully, she will get the answers she seeks.
I hope that the folks at the Somali Community Center of Nashville takes note of these types of reports and addresses them at once. This type of behavior, which has been continuously going on at the complex, will undermine any efforts they may have underway to bring the refugee community and the locals together. They must also take into account the feelings and concerns of those who have lived here all their lives, not simply the rights and cultural differences of the refugees. Vandalism and terrorizing your neighbors isn't considered acceptable behavior in any society that I'm aware of.
But while looking over the comments to one of my stories from yesterday, I could not help but notice how similar they are to what is posted here. These towns in Iowa are getting their share of refugees as well, but after the news story are the local comments which very well could have been lifted from our website. For example:
If these people were provided for by charitable organizations until they become self supporting, then that would be a good thing. All too often , an organization hauls them to the Quad Cities, and then dumps them on the taxpayers via welfare programs etc. No one should get stuck with someone else's bill. If you bring them here, then you should be held responsible for supporting them, NOT the taxpayers. I have seen World Relief haul them to local welfare offices for handouts at taxpayer expense-yet they are supposed to be self supporting ! Note that the article says they are to be working within 6 months- What about those that have little or no skills, or those that still become a burden on the taxpayers during those first 6 months. World Relief should be required to pay for their "failures" rather than taking money from the taxpayers pockets.
If you noticed in one of my stories from yesterday, Amal Adam said she was only given three months of support before being left out there on her own. Fortunately for her, she already knew English and has a skill that would give her a good start in America. But that isn't the case for a great many of the Somalis who come here, not by a long shot. Over the past few years, about 12,000 Bantu have been permitted to move to this country and the briefing material that the resettlement people use explains that they have little or no modern job skills.
As tens of thousands of other refugees are settled around the country this year, I'm sure we are going to see more of these types of stories along with the reaction of the people that live where they move to.
As far as I'm aware of, there had been no other news media coverage of the impact that the Somalis are having on this part of the state until the T-G published my series in December. It has almost been like their existence in middle Tennessee was totally ignored. Oh, you will read about the various refugee groups living in Nashville, but for the most part, they have been very one sided, touchy-feely pieces extolling the virtues of diversity, while either downplaying, overlooking or flat out ignoring the reaction from the rest of the community or the negative aspects of resettling such a large number of displaced people in our culture.
We didn't do that. We gave you the facts: The good and the bad. It has definitely started a discussion and I'm given to understand that the MTSU event was set up directly as a result of the series.
But we still have a long way to go. There are a great many hurtles to jump. Efforts must be stepped up to educate both sides: The refugees and the community. The Somalis must understand the rules and laws here and adapt to them. Likewise, more efforts should be made locally to reach out to the refugees.
Because I fear that if some type of communication isn't opened soon, the feelings about our new neighbors are going to get much, much worse.
Some folks don't react to slashed tires in the same way that others do.
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Brian Mosely is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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