Rumble time!

Because I am procrastinating on an assignment for class tonight anyway, I thought I’d respond to a response by one of the anti-refugee resettlement bloggers to my previous post on Iraqi refugees.

Here we go:

Here is what Transitionland said about us today.

A certain anti- refugee resettlement blogger recently wondered if the “refugee lobbyists” had “overplayed their hand” by advocating for more Iraqis to be resettled in the US, given how disappointed some Iraqi refugees are here.

Three points:

1) Yes, resettlement needs to be overhauled. Everyone who works in resettlement KNOWS THIS.

We agree!   If everyone KNOWS THIS, lets get to work.  I have all sorts of ideas!

She sure does! They seem to be; no more Muslim refugees, cut resettlement numbers back dramatically, de-fund resettlement agencies, and run resettlement on a “one refugee family, one church/other institution” basis.

2) AGAIN, the disappointment of Iraqi refugees and other refugees from more developed countries is also a problem of unfortunate, Hollywood-fuelled expectations about life in the United States. Refugees from all over are absolutely shocked to find out that not only does poverty exist in America, but they themselves will be living in American poverty, at least for a little while.

I disagree, I don’t believe Hollywood has anything to do with the Iraqi refugees misconception about what their lives would be in the US.  Someone in the UN, an overseas processing entity, or representatives of groups who want to bring lots of refugees to the US mislead them.   Their stories are uniformly the same and we have written about 17 locations in the US where the story is the same.   But, why would anyone be deceptive about something so important?

Their stories are the same because IOM employees don’t or can’t explain how the reality of life for refugees recently resettled in the US differs from the portrayals of American life  in our exported popular culture. If any IOM people are reading this, can you give me some insight here?

3) Being poor in Sweden or Germany or the Netherlands is not the same as being poor in America. Being poor in America sucks –but being poor in Syria or Jordan, Pakistan, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Turkey, or Thailand is scary-awful. And not all refugees can be resettled in Sweden.

Again, I disagree.  I love America and think  it’s the greatest place in the world.  

Hooray! Here, have a cookie.

I’ve traveled extensively and in no other country can you pull yourself out of poverty easier than in the US. 

That’s not true. And poverty here IS measurably worse than in many other developed countries, because our social safety net is so threadbare.

With our freedom and opportunity you can be anything you want to be.   Heck, welfare states like Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany are far from having a black man as President.   

And Obama’s election has TOTALLY propelled us into a post-racial, post-class, zero-poverty era of gumdrop rainshowers and equality.

And, have you checked out the social unrest in Sweden these days, they are deporting Iraqis (and other immigrants) as we speak.

I agree Transitionland that I wouldn’t want to be poor or anything for that matter in those “scary-awful” countries.

I wrote that BEING POOR in those countries was scary-awful –which it is– not that the countries were scary-awful.

So let’s cut it with the “they’d be better off if they went baaaaack!” crap.

Well, some are going back.   Believe it or not, some Iraqi refugees may prefer their culture and their not-always-safe homeland  to being  on welfare and cared for like children by paternalistic do-gooder refugee agencies.  

A handful of Iraqis have gone back, but how they do on their return remains to be seen. My guess is that many will end up refugees in Jordan and Syria again, joining the ranks of the urban poor in those countries, without legal status and harassed by the authorities.

That said, we absolutely should have done a better job here in the US, and need to now. We’ve been especially negligent when it comes to providing for the mental health of Iraqi (and other) refugees. But post-resettlement depression is not caused only by resettlement-related frustration –refugees arrive here after witnessing and being subjected to unimaginably horrible and traumatizing things.

And what is up with “cared for like children by paternalistic do-gooder refugee agencies”? I thought resettlement agencies were full of lazy, greedy fiends, not “paternalistic do-gooders.”

Does. Not. Follow.

And, please answer me this.  If America is such a mean, hard-hearted country then why is it so important that you bring refugees here; you can’t have it both ways.  In other words, if refugee resettlement advocates said, “We love America and we think its the greatest country on earth and we want to share our freedoms and great bounty with others” I would have more respect for their position.   Instead, and this is especially so with the Iraqis, we hear from the refugee lobbyists that America is a bad country, we should feel guilty about Iraq and so therefore we owe Iraqi refugees a life in this rotten, greedy, racist country.   That is crap.

We do owe them. Our government launched an invasion of their country, and triggered violence that tore their society apart and ended hundreds of thousands of lives. Iraq is not as bad now as it was two years ago in terms of violence levels, but it is still a very dangerous place (there was another large suicide bombing just today), and will remain very dangerous for some time to come. Sadly, going home again is not a safe option for millions of Iraqi refugees.  Thus, it is incumbent on us to offer them refuge and help them become full and happy members of our communities.


6 thoughts on “Rumble time!

  1. How do you know the US is the easiest place to pull yourself out of poverty if you haven’t pulled yourself out of poverty in other countries?

  2. Wow, your patience is amazing. I would’ve lost it entirely if I had to answer all these stupid arguments one by one.

    “I love America and think it’s the greatest place in the world.” Excuse me while I gag. The welfare system of Scandinavian countries IS considerably better than that of the US. It’s unfortunate that they’re being more xenophobic overtime, but somehow I don’t think the solution is to urge America to follow their example.

  3. Thanks, Transitionland, for taking the time to blog about these issues. Obviously you’re dedicated to your work and to refugee resettlement in general, so, in my opinion, your words carry a lot of weight. I have a bit of a rambling contribution to the comments on this post…

    I decided to get out of the refugee resettlement field recently because of what I saw as unsavory and insensitive practices at the national level.

    I was deeply opposed to the Iraq war from the moment the “marketing” (Andrew Card’s term, not mine) of the war began in the summer of 2002. Watching the war unfold was a bitter pill to swallow, primarily because I love this country and I thought the war was a tragic mistake. The war left me torn about refugee resettlement, as well. I am sad that this war led to such a huge displacement of people, but also that the subsequent migration of Iraqis has been handled so poorly by the VOLAGs, who energetically campaigned for resettlement of Iraqis. A VOLAG I worked for employed a few people directly linked to foundations who advocated for the war, which leads me to believe there was some cynical calculation about the war’s knock-on effects.

    Believe me, I don’t like to concede points to the other side of the debate re: Iraqi resettlement, but the lack of follow-through by the VOLAGs has exposed a major deficiency of the refugee program, one linked to the relationship between local and national resettlement offices.

    Like a lot of non-profit organizations, the national voluntary agencies are not on top of the issues affecting local partners. I don’t think the local agencies are very much to blame, although, as the direct service providers, they are the ones that capture headlines in local papers and on an almost daily basis have to have the difficult discussions with refugees to clarify the guidelines and/or clear up a misunderstanding.

    To the extent that local agencies stray from the DOS and DHHS guidelines (which themselves are a bit vague, probably by design), there should be a system of warning and sanctioning, just like there is for refugees when they do not accept jobs or comply with the guidelines of their assistance program.

    One of your previous posts outlines a typical day for a local refugee resettlement employee, and I’m glad you posted it. In my experience, most VOLAG employees don’t work nearly as hard are not even aware of the time involved to resettle refugees, yet refugee resettlement resources are allocated disproportionately towards the national headquarters.

    All of which points to a proposed common sense change for the refugee resettlement system: set a fixed percentage (lower than the present share) of cost per refugee given to national offices and return that amount to the local offices. This will not resolve nearly all of the challenges presented by the current configuration of the refugee resettlement program, but I think it would be a good start.

    I apologize for rambling. Keep up the good fight!

  4. No seriously; what makes you think that it’s easier (if you’re an immigrant) to pull yourself out of poverty in other countries than it is in the U.S.?

    And the problem of unemployment in Sweden loops back around to the difficulty Sweden has had in integrating its immigrants into the job market. As Swedish economist Esra Karakaya wrote in Aftonbladet in 2006, the unemployment rate among immigrants in Sweden is 29 percent—another staggering figure, in marked contrast to the joblessness rate among immigrants in this country. This, Karakaya convincingly argues, is “because the labor market is governed by rigid job security laws” that are incompatible with a globalized economy. Indeed, a recent study tracking the fortunes of Somali immigrants in Sweden and in Minneapolis (reported here in Swedish, summarized here in English) found that its sample group in the U.S. started approximately 800 companies. In Sweden, they managed only 38. In a recent editorial in the newspaper Expressen, Nima Sanandaji, a Kurdish immigrant, argued that it was “important to study how the Swedish system of benefits, taxes and [regulated] job market leads the same group of people to be successful on one side of the Atlantic and to social poverty and dependence in Sweden.”

    • My point was more that poverty itself is quite different between countries. It may be more difficult for refugees and immigrants to find employment in Sweden, but, even if they don’t, there is a safety net that catches them. Here, there just isn’t, which makes the initial resettlement period especially difficult.

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