The American Unsettlement System

After covering the Congolese immigrant and refugee community throughout New England for the larger part of four months, I went in search of a story that illuminated the struggles of immediate resettlement – perhaps a tale of culture shock, layered with stories about the kindness of state and federal officers and social workers in a deft and practiced resettlement system.

What I found, however, was much different. The story I will tell of Issa’s eight months in America illuminates impenetrable layers of protocol, low quality housing and a lack of cooperation between agencies.

Issa, whose sole companion in the world is a twin brother with severe mental issues, has been told that he cannot live with his brother in mental health housing. After a lifetime of clinging together, Issa and his brother face the prospect of life in America apart.

The beacon of light in this story, and in Issa’s life, is Viviane Kamba, the program director at the Congolese Development Center. Kamba has worked tirelessly on Issa’s behalf, logging hours on the phone with government officials, working with the resettlement agency to find better housing, driving Issa back and forth to the psychiatric ward in Beverly.

Kamba’s story is one of empathy and selflessness, providing Issa a much-needed touchstone of support.

While reporting Issa’s story, a story that is heartbreaking in the challenges Issa has faced, and heartwarming in his resilience in facing it, I have been reassured that Issa has the support he needs going forward in Kamba. In a system intended to support and sustain new Americans, one woman provides the understanding, comfort and hope that this refugee so desperately needs.

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Congolese Immigrant Lusenge Siriwayo Teaches African Dance in Vermont

An article from Vermont Public Radio profiles a Congolese immigrant living in Vermont who teaches African dance to local youth.

Through the Vermont Folklife Center’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Lusenge Siriwayo has been teaching drumming, dancing and singing to Congolese and African immigrants. The group, called “Ngoma ya Kwetu,” is based in Burlington.

According to the Vermont paper Seven Days, Siriwayo and his family of eight have been in the United States since 1999. He is also a director of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, an organization that serves refugees and immigrants in the greater Burlington area.

VPR’s story includes the following video:

Report Suggests Giving Refugees a “One Stop Shop”

A new study about refugees resettling in Syracuse, New York, concludes that the city needs a “one stop shop” for the refugee population.

A report being released today by the Onondaga Citizens League suggests centralizing refugee services at a one-stop shop. The study examined Syracuse’s refugee population and resettlement efforts.

One of the recurring themes from both refugees and the people who serve them was how difficult it is to get refugees to the different appointments and classes, said Heidi Holtz, co-chair of the OCL board and director of research and projects for the Gifford Foundation.

Having a one-stop shop would also increase communication between the different agencies and service providers, she said.

I’ve seen this firsthand – many of the refugees and asylum seekers that I’ve spoken to have voiced their frustration at the red tape and seemingly impossible web of doctors, officials, and counselors that they must navigate as new arrivals.

Click through to hear the Syracuse.com article, which features the story of Congolese refugee Makene Yelusa:

(David Lassman | dlassman@syracuse.com)

Makene Yelusa from the Congo works on her English skills at the Northside CYO on N. Salina Street in Syracuse Wednesday. (David Lassman | dlassman@syracuse.com)

Mukeba to Speak at UVM DRC Conference

860803_516724648366900_620844030_oTomorrow Cleophace Mukeba will be speaking at the University of Vermont’s 8th annual
“Dismantling Rape Culture” Conference. Mukeba’s organization, the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative, is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation in the DRC as well as helping Congolese women who have suffered sexual violence.

Visit UVM’s DRC Conference Facebook page here.

Work Ethic in Refugee Camps

I’ve been working to produce a video piece that illustrates the post-resettlement life of a young Congolese refugee, who arrived in Massachusetts last August. I found quite quickly, however, that it was impossible to tell his story without understanding what he’d been through – in the DRC and in his almost decade-long stay at a refugee camp in Tanzania.

While researching the piece, I’ve learned a lot about the life of Congolese refugees waiting for resettlement in camps. Like the fact that there are over 3 million Congolese refugees and internally displaced around the world. And the fact refugees live in camps an average of 17 years before resettlement. Or the fact that less than one percent of the world’s refugees are lucky enough to get resettled at all.

A recent article from AllAfrica.com caught my eye, about how refugees in the Mugunga 3 refugee camp in eastern DRC would rather work than be charity cases. I’ve seen that sentiment firsthand, with the subject of my video documentary. The subject of my video, a 26 year old man named Issa, expressed pride in the jobs he held in his camp. “I am strong at any work,” Issa told me. “I can work at anything. Usually men like me who have been through my experience, we are able to do anything, to use our hands to survive and do any job.

Click the headline below to read the full story from AllAfrica.com:
AllAfrica.com

Fifty Refugees to be Resettled in Nashua, New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Union Leader is reporting that 50 refugees will be resettled in Nashua in the next few weeks, an addition to the 200 refugees currently being resettled in Manchester.

Tensions between the two cities, as well as the resettlement agency, the International Institute of New Hampshire (IINH), are evident in the piece. Paul Feely’s article also gives some context around the numbers of refugees in the Granite State:

The Queen City has been the top resettlement location for refugees in New Hampshire. Between 2002 and 2009, Manchester received 1,807 of the state’s 2,966 new refugees, about 60 percent, while Nashua, the state’s second-largest city, received 70 refugees over the same time. Concord and Laconia each received 778 and 260, respectively.

No more information about the ancestry of the 50 refugees was given.

Data Visualization: Immigration Explorer

With this interactive map from the New York Times, you can select certain foreign-born groups to see how they settled across the United States. Although the map is dated (it was created in March of 2009) and groups all African immigrants together, you can still see some very interesting patterns of settlement across the country over time.

Immigration Explorer interactive map

Sources for the map are listed as: Social Explorer, www.socialexplorer.com; Minnesota Population Center; and the U.S. Census Bureau.