Friday, October 17, 2008

Bringing Peace Home

When AFSC staff members in Dayton, Ohio found that their next door neighbors needed help they responded immediately. Who were their neighbors? A family originally from Burundi forced to flee their home due to conflict. This month's issue of Quaker Action focuses on AFSC's work to advocate for the rights of African refugees and bring a community together in difficult times.

Photo Credit: Kinyanjui Migwe (Community Festival for refugee families on World Refugee Day)

AFSC responds to a refugee resettlement crisis in Dayton, Ohio

by Karen Light

This past January, rumors were circulating that the boarded-up house adjacent to the AFSC-Dayton office was being occupied by immigrants. Staff, however, saw no signs of life until the beginning of spring when Migwe Kimemia, the Peace & Immigration Program Director, spotted children playing outside.

Migwe spoke with them in Swahili and learned that the rumors were true: a family of African refugees, including nine children, was, in fact, living there. The stove was broken and there was a gas leak. They were in this dangerous situation because they felt powerless and didn’t know their rights.

“It was shocking for me to discover that a government-funded refugee resettlement program can debase human rights and dignity before my own eyes!” Migwe says.

Grim circumstances

As Migwe learned more, he came to realize that this was a widespread problem. Prior to being resettled, many of these African refugees, originally from Burundi, had been raising families and growing up in Tanzanian refugee camps since 1972 where they had no access to basic education. They were then moved to Dayton where they were supposed to secure work and enroll their children in English-speaking schools upon arrival. Hundreds of other refugees from Liberia, Rwanda, and Sudan had already been resettled in Dayton by the same U.S. resettlement program.

Under the U.S. refugee resettlement policy, refugees have a mere eight months to become self-sufficient, after which all aid is withdrawn. With no skills and little guidance on how to navigate the system, these refugees find themselves dropping out of school, in homeless shelters, or under the grip of slum landlords, jobless, destitute, scared, and isolated.

AFSC-Dayton is working to change this by connecting the refugees with one another and helping them create a community.

> Read the full article in Quaker Action.