Conversations With America: A Discussion on Helping the World's Refugees

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
June 14, 2011

More Information: Questions Submitted on DipNoteEric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, held a conversation with George Rupp, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, on “Helping the World's Refugees.” The discussion was moderated by Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, on June 14, 2011. A transcript of the conversation will posted as soon as it is available.



@ragamuffinLife J.
Texas, USA
June 22, 2011

J.R. in Texas writes:

I have been working with the U.S. refugee population since 2007. I have witness numerous government organizations try and fail to educate and provide resources to the refugees once they arrive here. The problem is that they are not educated upon arrival. They are given a handbook, they can't read. They are mailed letters, they have no idea what mail is or the importance of quick response. They are given a bucket of cleaning materials, they come from bamboo or thatch huts and dirt floors.

The fact is, they must be educated ON THE GROUND in the country they come from or they are set up to fail here when they arrive. We cannot expect them (especially those over age 40) to be able to adapt within a few months here with no preparation. I have witnessed suicides, homelessness, poverty, addictions, strain on medicare/medicaid, and insanity as a result of their lack of preparation when they arrive.

I propose rather than developing another plan of "what to do once they are on the ground here", we need to revamp the plan to culturally educate them in the camps to better prepare them for the shock of U.S. culture. --> The UNHCR and U.S. reps are currently doing a horrible job of this.

Nevada, USA
June 14, 2011

Josh in Nevada writes:

Hopefully, the international community can help stymie the refugee problem coming out of Syria.

United States
July 15, 2011

Louise in U.S.A. writes:

I was disappointing to hear little in this "conversation" but the basic information that almost anybody interested would already know. especially those of us who try to help solve problems refugees face once they arrive in the United States. There was little discussion about basic operating issues within the U.S. that most of us struggle with daily trying to help refugees whose resettlement agencies should be helping them but aren't.

Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Rupp spoke almost exclusively about activities outside the U.S. while the questions submitted were mostly about issues within the U.S. It is as if the participants think the game is over once a refugee reaches the U.S. They ignore the reality, and the hypocrisy it represents, that frequently refugees find the very persecution and neglect waiting for them here that they fled. Life is indeed "tough" in the U.S. - however, life approaches impossible for too many, especially for refugees placed with an underperforming local resettlement agency - and sometimes even an abusive/neglectful one.

Refugees in a failed placement face inadequate/unsafe housing, food shortages, useless English classes, placement with almost any employer no matter how inappropriate or unsafe, inappropriate referrals for health care and constant caseworker voice mail when they have problems. They are not given handbooks and their orientations are in English only. There are no warnings about how to be safe and no instruction about getting emergency help, and there are rarely culturally-informed caseworkers. By contrast, the outstanding local resettlement agencies are bright lights and are indeed safe and nurturing havens for refugees - wish there were more of them.

Obviously refugees have the capacity to deal with a tough life or they wouldn't have made it through the refugee resettlement process alive. However, the all-to-frequent failure in this country to give them the most basic tools is not only a moral disgrace but wastes people who would likely be productive citizens. Luckily for the U.S. some refugees are so tough they thrive despite their resettlement agencies' failures. For the refugees lucky enough to be placed with an outstanding local resettlement agency life is indeed tough - but the possibility of a successful life increases exponentially.

The conversation was useful, though, for me to realize several things: Mr. Schwartz is more interested in Burma than Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan - not that what is happening in Burma isn't serious, but it seems Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan would have warranted something more since their refugees number in the millions. I realized that both Mr. Schwartz's and Dr. Rupp's foci are outside the United States. That view, then, completely explains the abysmal lack of supervision of local U.S. resettlement agencies. I have regularly observed not even the most rudimentary calling to account by either the State Department or a local agency's own national office over egregious problems some of these agencies have caused. It's hard to see how this is accidental so I conclude the national resettlement agencies and the Department of State don't care or don't take the time to care about resettlement failures inside the U.S.

Additionally, while Mr. Schwartz may be proud that we get some sort of progress for "a pittance," it seems more than a pittance should be devoted to relieving human suffering abroad, many times caused, facilitated or ignored by the U.S. If only "a pittance" is spent outside the U.S., one can only imagine what miniscule amount is spent within the U.S. However even in the face of inadequate funding, the kind of refugee assistance failure/abuses I have seen could have, and can be, prevented. It simply takes workers who care to do their jobs in more than the most cursory of ways and leadership that regularly monitors and has the vision to devise innovative solutions.

Mr. Schwartz's and Dr. Rupp's comments about "smoothing out the flow" of refugees to make things easier for the resettlement agencies is distressing, too. I don't think someone in Somalia or Sudan would be particularly interested in waiting another month or two or 12 just so the flow can be "smoothed out." The refugee resettlement agencies should figure out how to take people when they can get out, not when it most benefits a self-centered concept of agency management.

Finally, it is almost laughable - were it not so indicative of either territoriality or ignorance - that Mr. Schwartz and Dr. Rupp propose a study of the health care needs of refugees. There is an obvious and existing solution - called the U.S. public health service system. Poor people have been using it for a long time now. It's hard to think there is any health problem this system hasn't encountered.

I hope things will change and maybe this comment will stimulate some thinking about that. Not all improvements require money.


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