Showing posts with label Refugees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Refugees. Show all posts

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U.S. refugee resettlement policy, refugees have a mere eight months to become self-sufficient, after which all aid is withdrawn.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.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Extension of Benefits a Temporary Lifeline for Refugees

After years of public advocacy and testimonies, letter writing campaigns, and visits to elected officials, "refugees and other humanitarian immigrants" will now be able to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for at least two additional years.

The SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act is effective October 1, 2008 and impacts humanitarian immigrants, refugees and others whose SSI was cut off or who were denied SSI due to the expiration of the allotted time period. Moreover, the law provides for a third year of benefits for humanitarian immigrants who have a naturalization application pending at the end of the two-year extension.

Humanitarian refugees include refugees, asylees, persons granted withholding of deportation or removal, Cuban and Haitian Entrants, Amerasians, and victims of trafficking in persons; they are one of the few groups eligible to receive SSI.

Ruben Chandrasekar, AFSC's Project Voice regional organizer in Baltimore shares, "I am particularly happy for the refugee families we have been supporting for the past years who had their SSI terminated but who never stopped struggling for a fair change and process.

One family member was also part of a class action that secured some relief for a group of humanitarian immigrants who were cut off from SSI while waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. He was affected by the 7-year time limit but last year testified in DC – along with other AFSC Project Voice constituents. I had the good fortune of speaking with the family today.
They are quite happy that they will be able to avail themselves of SSI benefits which will help improve their quality of life as they settle into their new country. They are ready to continue advocacy efforts so that time limits for receiving SSI for humanitarian immigrants and refugees are eliminated."
Under a sunset provision in the new law the extensions of SSI eligibility expire in 2011. SSI is often the primary source of income for poor and low-income seniors and persons with disabilities. Congress placed time limits as an incentive to encourage humanitarian immigrants to move quickly and seek naturalization; however, the naturalization application process has experienced troubling delays and lengthy waits (years) for lawful permanent residency -- the prerequisite for the submission of a naturalization/citizenship application.

Still, advocacy groups continue to press for flexibility and consideration of extenuating factors. In a recent commentary, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) noted, "While the new law will help many very vulnerable immigrants, advocates will continue to seek legislation that repeals the time limits altogether. Naturalization is unattainable for persons who cannot pass the citizenship test because of their age, disability or other factors. The United States has invited refugees to come, and has offered safe haven to other humanitarian immigrants. Our laws do not force indigent seniors or persons with disabilities who are citizens into destitution at the end of an arbitrary time period."

Individuals who have lost their SSI benefits due to the imposed time limits should contact the Social Security Administration beginning October 10, 2008 as they are still establishing policy guidelines for implementing the new law. Requests to extend SSI benefits can be facilitated by visiting the local SSA office or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

> Click here for a fact sheet on the SSI Extension (NILC).

AFSC will continue to work with partners in the nation's refugee community and urge legislators to rescind the current time limits and to keep in mind age, disability, the mental health and environmental factors that have impacted refugees in their journey for a safe haven and a new home.

Friday, June 20, 2008

World Refugee Day: A Global Urgency

Today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commemorates the eighth annual World Refugee Day. This year's events focus on four major refugee situations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and Myanmar. According to a survey released by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a half million Iraqis fled their country in 2007 (Associated Press).

Support Iraqi Refugees on World Refugee Day

AFSC joins the global community in calling for a humane and united response to the dire situations in these countries and in other regional pockets of the world. Join AFSC in bringing attention to the approximately 5 million Iraqis who fled the violence spurred on by war and occupation.

Please write a letter to the editors of your local newspapers drawing attention to this crisis. Below is a sample letter with tips and links on how to send that letter to the editor of your local paper.

> Is Your Newspaper Covering the Iraqi Refugee Crisis?

> Write a Letter to the Editor

To Learn More

> Volunteer to Help Refugees

> More About AFSC's Work with Iraqi Refugees

> AFSC's Living Beyond Borders Blog

World Refugee Day Events

To find a World Refugee Day event near you visit one of the following the links:

(Photo Credit: AFSC - Iraqi family)