I’ve just returned from a weekend confe …
I’ve just returned from a weekend conference at Colby College in Maine: “Confronting the Iraqi refugee crisis: From awareness to action.”
Part of the conference was focused locally to help Maine communities that are on the edge of an influx of Iraqi refugees, as are many other places in the US. Maine leaders want to avoid the conflict that arose in response to the arrival of the Somali community in Lewiston, ME in the early part of this decade.
The highlight of the conference was Saturday dinner speaker Al Jazeera producer Laila Al-Arian (daughter of Sami), who did an excellent job of “telling it like it is” for Iraqi refugee new arrivals in the US, many of whom are being retraumatized in the process and placed in substandard living conditions. Some have even said that they had a better quality of life as a illegal refugee in Syria or Jordan than as a legal resident in America. Many are saying that there are no jobs and that they spend most of their days isolated from other Muslims and the larger American community.
I hope Ms. Al-Arian becomes the Al Jazeera “beat” reporter for US Iraqi refugee community stories. I have no doubt that if so, she will become the go-to source for real information as the community grows.
The low point was the refugee agency reps who essentially blamed the refugees for their problems: “They have high expectations from watching TV.” One man said that refugees often expected to receive new furniture and household goods. I can report that anecdotally among the families I have met and interacted with, none has expressed an expectation that they were going to receive new anything, but all had been led to believe in refugee agency orientations held in Syria that their basic needs (including for furniture) would be met by the local agency stateside.
I was upset because it sounded like a nasty “blaming the victim” meme, that the Iraqis are sort of lazy, pampered Arabs used to dependence and who expect it all to be handed to them without hard work. In this scenario (which I’ve heard articulated by an agency director I’ve dealt with elsewhere in language more genorous than I’m going to put it here), the refugee agencies are licensed to wean the Iraqis away from their “welfare queen” tendencies by “responsibly” withholding services (total Bull s***).
Wouldn’t it be awful if the first ugly slurs that are generated against this new American community are created by the agencies that are supposed to be their biggest advocates.
Also on the topic: Several weeks ago in my local area one of the Iraqi refugee families that arrived in the Fall disappeared. Nobody among the refugee community knows what happened to them, nor does anyone at the agency.
My friend tells me that it is now strongly suspected that the family may have returned to Iraq. The family had three teenage daughters who had begun to show independence “unlike the Iraqi tradition.” The parents were further alarmed when the two older daughters (ages 17 and 18) were offered birth control pills during a medical checkup.
I visited the family about a month ago. Even though they still lived in the initial apartment they had been settled in, the father had found good consulting work programming computers. All of the furniture was brand new. They had satellite TV, are there were decorative additions (wall hangings, pictures, decorative shelf sculptures) that made it look different from other ‘recent arrival’ homes that I’ve visited that just have a few pieces of basic, mismatched, second-hand furniture and little else. During the visit, a disagreement broke out between the two older daughters and their mother, with the mother saying the girls would follow her into her profession, and the girls essentially saying, ‘That’s what you think.’
The only thing that stood out as odd in the ‘home comfort’ decor was a brand new, shiny padlock on the outside of the teenage girls’ bedroom door. I take the padlock now to be confirmation that the girls modesty, ‘honor’, independence, etc. was at issue, so much so that it prompted the father to return the whole family to Iraq.