‘Resettlement Agencies’ Neglect, Betray Refugees in U.S., Say Observers

refugee, refugees

When Eritrean refugee Mulugeta Zemu Mana was recently arraigned in a courtroom in Twin Falls, Idaho, on charges of aggravated battery, he told the presiding judge, “The only guilt I have is the day I decided to come to this country.”

Mana’s lack of gratitude and anti-Americanism is a painful revelation of the social turmoil and economic pain among the 70,000 refugees, half of whom are Muslim, who arrive in the U.S. every year.

But it is also the predictable outcome of the lucrative, federal taxpayer financed refugee resettlement industry which is now headed by former Clinton and Obama administration appointees. The industry rejects America’s traditional policy of assimilating refugees into the country, and instead treats refugees more as revenue-generating opportunities that boost their income and political power.

The taxpayer-funded $1 billion plus per year refugee resettlement industry  runs provides a constant, ongoing, and aggressive propaganda campaign that claims it only seeks to serve the needs of those deserving refugees fortunate enough to be brought into the United States on the taxpayers’ dime.

But the day-to-day reality of how these resettlement agencies operate is very different.

The industry often neglects refugees after their government subsidies have ended. It places them in slum housing conditions, fails to monitor their compliance with American health standards, and pushes them into low wage, tough jobs in meat packing and food processing industries. This self-serving exploitation of refugees is far from the heart-rending appeals the executives in these non-profit voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) make to the American public and members of Congress each year.

“This long standing record of poor treatment of refugees by the resettlement industry clearly points to the need for Congressional reform,” says Ann Corcoran, founder of the Refugee Resettlement Watch blog. She’s reported for years on how the VOLAGs exploit the refugees and impose huge costs on American neighborhoods and communities. 

Since the 1970s, more than 3 million refugees have been invited into the United States. The refugee resettlement program has been governed by the Refugee Act of 1980 for 36 years, with administrative responsibilities shared by the Department of State and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. Despite the billions of dollars the federal government has paid VOLAGS to resettle refugees here, their record of performance has been less than stellar.

Reports of poor treatment of resettled refugees by VOLAGS abound.

In 2009, for instance, a volunteer who drove 210 miles from Northern Kentucky to Bowling Green, Kentucky “to welcome a son of a Karenni/Burmese family I been visiting in the Thailand Refugee Camp outside Mae Hong Son, since 2003” tells this shocking story of that visit:

I stayed in the son’s apartment at Lover’s Lane for 3 days and I was horrified from what I saw and heard from the Karenni refugees in Bowling Green. I didn’t realize there were so many Karenni living in BG. They all had so many questions for me and I didn’t know how to answer any of them. I was totally dumbfounded from what I saw. I never imagined America would do this to refugees.

The Riviera apartments on 1106 Lovers Lane and the Greenwood Villa Apartments on 1500 Bryant Way, are slum apartments loaded with cockroaches and rodents. They were totally nasty! And these apartments are charging them $500.00 a month after they land a $9.00/hr job at the chicken factory. They are not worthy to even live in. The walls and carpeting in all the apartments I went in, haven’t been cleaned in years by management! . . .

I was totally bewildered the whole weekend. I called the Bowling Health Department on Monday, November 2, to report the living conditions the Karenni people are living in. As I write this, I am still baffled; “where are the funds going?” It’s a total disgrace!

These people have only what they brought with them usually one luggage with their whole life in it. They do not have enough winter clothing, eating utensils & dishes, no furniture, basically nothing and winter is around the corner. I had to go out and spend close to $300.00 of my own money to buy the family the necessities and the majority of items I purchased [were] 2nd hand.

The whole weekend, I kept asking myself “why would America bring these people over here if they can’t help them?” Knowing the life of a Karreni refugee camp, I feel as they had a better life in the refugee camp than living in Bowling Green, Kentucky!I drove the 3 hours back in disbelief. How can these Karreni people get help! We need to stop bringing refugees in if we cannot help them.

Christopher Coen, a supporter of bringing in more refugees who is a harsh critic of the poor treatment refugees receive from VOLAGs on his blog, FORefugees, ” a grassroots, all volunteer, independent, nonpartisan citizens group monitoring the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” explained in 2007 that he “got started after I read some articles in 2001 about the ‘Lost Boys’ of Sudan, refugees who were then arriving in the US.”

I was moved by the suffering they had endured as children and I decided to get involved in helping them. I gathered up some donations and drove to Fargo and to Sioux Falls, and later to Chicago and Michigan. I discovered that the refugees were being neglected. They would call their resettlement agency caseworkers for assistance and all they would get was voicemail. The caseworkers would not return their calls. I would contact the resettlement agencies myself, and I got the phone hung up in my ear.

When I later went to Chicago I found an even more deplorable situation. After  numerous letters to the State Department and their subsequent visit to the Chicago resettlement agency that I found so many problems at, I realized that the government was helping to do a cover-up. I decided to dig further to see how widespread the problems were .

According to Coen the problems with the VOLAGs treatment of refugees were extensive:

At the World Relief affiliate north of Tampa, Florida in New Port Richey, refugees complained to me that World Relief had referred them to jobs in the next county over. The refugees had to ride bikes three hours each way to get to work. They had to leave before sunrise to get to work on time. The refugees also told me that World Relief had not given them any beds for months and that they had to sleep on the floor. They said that nobody at World relief would answer the phones, so they would ride their bikes to the office and knock on the door. Nobody would answer the door even though the refugees could hear people inside. The resettlement agency also used the refugees as free labor for World Relief and rented the refugees out as day labor to clean nursing homes, but then did not pay them.

In Chicago the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants affiliate is Heartland Alliance. There I found refugees in run-down, dilapidated and roach infested apartments. The Lost Boys were being regularly attacked on the streets, yet neither Heartland Alliance nor the State Department would do anything about it. I counted over twenty Lost Boys who were attacked – three were stabbed, one was brain damaged, and many had their teeth knocked out. I later found out that refugees had been complaining to the State Department about these Chicago neighborhoods for several years and the PRM dismissed it as “perceived safety” of the community.

Ann Corcoran tells Breitbart News that, like Coen, she began reporting on the issue when she saw the appalling conditions refugees that were suddenly placed in her community experienced.

“When the refugees were first resettled in Washington County, Maryland, in 2006 and 2007, some were placed in the worst building in the worst drug infested neighborhood in the city,” Corcoran says.

In 2008, one young refugee from Iraq, Ali Rawaf, described the unhappiness he saw among fellow Iraqi refugees fourteen months after arriving here:

After having lost many loved ones and gone through many crises, Iraqi refugees come prepared to have an easy life here. They sign up to qualify for food stamps, health insurance for eight months, and rental payments and salaries for three months. But not often do they realize how long these privileges will last. Nor do they know what they should do in return, since most of them can’t read the contracts they sign.

With limited educational programs and orientations, the refugees end up spending their money not carelessly, but rather extravagantly. After three months of being picky about jobs and chasing the same lifestyle they had back home, they find that their salaries and rent payments end.

The problem is, the number of refugees is a lot bigger than the agencies can handle. The agencies are overwhelmed, so their performance is not as expected. This leads to misunderstandings and trust issues between the refugees and their sponsoring agencies. . .

There should also be consideration of allowing a reasonable number of Iraqi refugees.

It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all.

Rawaf went on to graduate from the University of Texas, blogged at the Iraqi Future, and now works at 60 Minutes for CBS News, but other Iraqi refugees in the United States have not fared as well.
Iraqi refugee Hamid, resettled in Vermont by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), one of the largest and most powerful VOLAGs, “isn’t venting about the militants who tortured and killed his relatives, or the U.S. occupation of his homeland, which he describes only as ‘incorrect.’ Instead, his frustration and anger are directed at, as he puts it, “the refugee center,” which he claims promised him and his family good housing, a decent job and financial support until they got on their feet again. Like the other three Iraqis hanging out at the market that day, Hamid says he feels abandoned and betrayed,” Vermont’s independent publication Seven Days reported in 2009:

“Ever since we got here, we didn’t get any of what we were promised,” Hamid says through an interpreter. “The means provided to us are not enough.” . . .

Starting a new life in a foreign land with an alien language is never easy, and each new immigrant group faces its own unique challenges. Still, national refugee advocates say it’s been particularly hard for the Iraqis who’ve resettled in the United States. In part, that’s because their losses are so new and so extreme, and they’ve had very little time to grieve and process. Even compared with other displaced peoples, the Iraqi refugees suffer from unusually high rates of trauma. Many were wounded, were violently interrogated, or saw friends and relatives tortured or killed in front of them.

Not surprisingly, many of these refugees blame the U.S. government for their suffering and expect their lives to be made whole again. As a result, they can harbor unrealistic expectations, often fueled by what they’ve been told before their arrival. Then, once they encounter the harsh realities of refugee life in the United States, their fears and frustrations can turn to anger — particularly after their relatives report how much better things are for them in countries such as Canada, Sweden, Germany and Australia. . .

“R. [an Iraqi refugee in Vermont], who has extensive computer skills and experience — she says she worked on “artificial intelligence programs” in Iraq — shares many of the frustrations voiced by the other Iraqis about the VRRP’s inability to find her a job. And she claims her caseworker never returns her calls,” Seven Days reported, adding:

“I don’t know why,” R. adds. “No procedure, just talk, talk, problems, problems . . . I don’t need that.” . .

Even R.’s friends, many of whom were doctors, lawyers and dentists in Baghdad and now live in Boston, Michigan and California, report that jobs are few and far between.

“They are so depressed!” she says. “They say that if they had money for a plane ticket, they’d return to any Middle East [nation].

Unhappiness with their treatment by the federal refugee resettlement program has led to significant mental health problems for many refugees, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in June:

With more than 500 immigrants settling in Allegheny County each year, the health center, established in 2006, has almost 5,000 patients, half of whom speak English as a second language if they speak English at all.

Most are Iraqis, Congolese, Somalis, Bosnians, Burmese, Bhutanese and Syrians who fled war zones, hostile regimes or witnessed atrocities. Many spent years in refugee camps.

Health and social service workers say many of these new arrivals have a host of mental disorders including post-traumatic stress, and are outpacing manpower and funding to help people heal.

“The request we get from these communities is to bring everyone together around mental health,” said Barbara Murock, manager of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ Immigrants and Internationals Initiative.

Cambodian refugees, for instance, have been poorly served by the refugee resettlement program “[s]ince the early 1990s, [Mary] Scully [program director at Connecticut-based Khmer Health Advocates] and other advocates [who] have researched mental illness among U.S.-based Cambodians” say.
“We were seeing mental health problems in the community right from the beginning,” Scully told Voice of America in April. “The people had bad headaches, nightmares. They are anxious. As time went on, we saw that wasn’t going away.”:

The U.S. policy of resettlement was fundamentally flawed, argues professor Eric Tang at the University of Texas, who recently published a book about Cambodian refugees living in the Bronx borough of New York City.

“It’s the failure of a social state that doesn’t provide enough support for them as a transition from being refugees to immigrants to residents, but sooner cut their welfare and others from support that they need to really build the life here in the U.S.,” Tang said.

A community organizer who worked with the Cambodian refugee population in the Bronx in the 1990s, Tang saw the challenges of resettlement firsthand.

“The first thing they were confronted with was harsh living conditions, bad housing,” he said. “Many of the refugees were not equipped to take the good jobs that were available, so they’re stuck in the state of working poverty.”

Additionally, he said, there was no long-term plan to help refugees establish themselves economically.

“The resettlement policy doesn’t pay attention to, for instance, job training,” he said. “[It didn’t] allow people to heal from their trauma before we push them into sweatshop jobs.”

Mental health problems are serious challenges among many refugee groups. Refugees from Bhutan have particularly high suicide rates. Some Bhutanese in the U.S. wish they had stayed in overseas camps. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported recently:

“The Bhutanese have a history of displacement, and probably a number were actually tortured and injured,” said Dr. Ken Thompson, staff psychiatrist at Squirrel Hill Health Center. “There is a high level of suicide, some locally, more nationally, and in a range of ages. It’s something we’re trying to get our heads around.”

“I started my practice in the 1980s in the Bronx, which was decimated as a community, with a lot of violence, displacement, homelessness,” he said. “We saw trauma all the time and began to understand” how nuanced its effects can be.

Iraqis and Kurds are exhibiting more classic post-traumatic stress symptoms from being in combat zones — hyper-arousal, nightmares, flashbacks, terror at the sounds of helicopters and sirens, he said. “Folks from the Congo [endured] 20 years of chaos, rape, people being shot in front of them, just god-awful stuff.”

The leaders of the resettlement industry seem more interested in getting bigger budgets from Congress to bring in more refugees than they are in providing successful assimilation services to them. In 2010, USCRI’ s head, former Clinton ORR director Lavinia Limon, wrote an op-ed for USA Today pushing for increased levels of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. from Haiti.
FORefugees’ Coen said Limon’s plea was misplaced and self-serving:

The message to help Haitians is a good one. Too bad it comes from someone who heads an organization, the USCRI, that has severely neglected refugees in this country for years. Just in the past 2 years newspapers around the country have reported about USCRI refugees who have been dropped off in filthy, decrepit, and roach & rodent-infested apartments and left to fend for themselves with little assistance from USCRI’s network of refugee offices. A USCRI affiliate in Connecticut even lost it’s government contract to resettle refugees so bad was the neglect.

Ms. Limon would be better off using her time to adequately care for the refugees her organization has already been entrusted with, rather than advocate for even more refugees to neglect.

In the fifteen years he has been working to help refugees, FORefugees’ Coen has not seen a great deal of improvement on the level of service provided by the refugee resettlement program. Chicago’s Heartland Alliance, for instance, left “refugees in the lurch, again,” he reported recently:
Three families did not have adequate clothing storage. One refugee told monitors that he did not feel safe in his neighborhood… One family had bed bugs; one family told monitors they had bed bugs, cockroaches, and mice; and one refugee said he had seen a few cockroaches. …two [case files] documented late home safety orientations . . .  Seven case files reviewed did not include evidence that refugees received orientation and four files documented refugees received complete registration beyond the [required] 30-day timeframe (sic)
In 2007, Coen offered this prescription for refugee resettlement reform, one that almost a decade later still appears to be needed:

We need the most basic level of reform first – start enforcing the very minimal ‘minimum requirements’ of the State Department’s contracts with the resettlement agencies. Make the inspections more regular instead of once every ten years or so, and stop making them pre-announced (we heard of one resettlement agency that spent six months practicing for their inspection).

Reform is most needed at the resettlement agencies, but the State Department needs to start effective oversight or the agencies will never change. Currently there are almost no consequences to failure to provide required services and items. The State Department has created these problems by their failure to enforce the contracts and to effectively oversee the refugee program.

With so many resettled refugees in the United States unhappy with their lives here, and a majority of Americans concerned about the problems of public health, common criminality, national security, and economic cost associated with the current refugee resettlement program, it may be time to consider more practical alternatives, such as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to establish safe zones overseas and other proposals for repatriation of refugees who want to return permanently to their countries of origin.



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