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Refugee influx unlikely

By: P.J. Standlee

December 8, 2007

Social and economic conditions common to the Kyrene Corridor may discourage the relocation here of hundreds of Middle Eastern and South Asian refugees expected to arrive in the Valley next year.

Arizona, particularly metro Phoenix, is part of a massive resettlement program that will include refugees from Iraq, Burma and Bhutan.

Bonnie Wood, who represents the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program, said it’s too soon to say exactly how many from Iraq and other Middle East countries will arrive, but unofficial estimates have put the number of new Iraqi refugee arrivals at 1,200 in the greater Phoenix area.

“We have no idea how many refugees will arrive until they get here,” said Wood.

The Valley has been getting Somalis for a number of years, and the Valley has been getting Iraqis for the last couple of years.

“When refugees arrive, they are resettled here and can then choose to leave (for elsewhere in the country). It depends strictly on the refugee,” said Wood.

“The purpose of resettling is to start life over and to help them become socially and economically self-sufficient.”

Wood added that the number of Middle East refugees may increase depending on yearly allocations from the U.S. Department of State and approved by President Bush.

Last year, the State Department allocated funding for no more than 80,000 U.S. entry positions, 5,500 of which were from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

Of the total entering the U.S. last year, only 2,335, or 4.84 percent, relocated in Arizona, including 602 from Burma, 158 from Iraq and 198 from Iran.

According to a State Department fact sheet on humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis, President Bush this year approved the admission of 28,000 refugees from Middle East and South Asian countries.

The program set a goal of admitting some 12,000 Iraqi refugees between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008.

Although the greater Phoenix area is due for a major influx, none of the private refugee resettlement agencies in the greater Phoenix area has offices in Tempe or Chandler, and rarely operate in the area.

Public Affairs Officer Carla Sandine, of the International Rescue Committee, said refugees are not usually placed in Tempe or Chandler because of social and economic differences.

Most refugees live between Interstate Highways 10 and 17 in order to be close to important government offices and services.

The refugee’s journey is a long and arduous one. Less than one percent of 12 million refugees worldwide relocate to host countries. Most can spend up to 10 years in camps waiting to be relocated, and 80 percent of refugees are either women or children, according to statistics.

Before arriving in the U.S. refugees undergo an interview screening process and medical examination overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.

Once they arrive, refugees are processed by the State Department and must submit to a medical review within 30 days. They are then resettled with the help of private Refugee Resettlement Agencies and the Arizona RRP, which provides services focus on the domestic side of the refugee resettlement process.

RRP services include job placement and mental health services for individual refugees or families up to five years from arrival in the United States.

RRP also funds refugee medical and cash assistance programs for up to eight months after arriving in the U.S. if the recipient doesn’t qualify for other public benefits.

“We have many successful refugee stories,” said Wood. “There is a myth about refugees that they are unlearned and don’t want to be educated.

“They are smart and resourceful; they take jobs right away — sometimes not in their chosen field — to allow them to get settled in and to move up. Basically, they want to be successful.”

In fact, being economically and socially self-sufficient is a requirement of the resettlement program, said Wood.

Refugee resettlement agencies, such as the International Rescue Committee, help find housing, employment and education services for refugees. Typically, it’s the agencies that provide long-term help.

Carolyn Manning, executive director of the Arizona Refugee Advancement Coalition, leads teams of volunteers in meeting refugees and helping them furnish their homes.

Manning said the majority of refugees are primarily concerned in finding work.

“The biggest concern expressed to me is finding a job. There is assistance only for a finite amount of time,” Manning said.

“They want everything that we all want. They can’t wait to send their kids to school so they can learn, and they are also anxious to learn English. They want the American dream. They can achieve those things.”

Manning said most refugees are glad to get out of camps and be able to start their lives, thankful for a chance to start over.

“We met an Iraqi who loved our Constitution. He had helped an American and was threatened by terrorist. He took his wife and mother-in-law and got away,” said Manning.

“In his own country he was a lawyer and member of the Ba’ath Party.

“He said he couldn’t believe our Constitution and Bill of Rights. He said he couldn’t believe that people decide who is guilty.”


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