US Refugee Numbers Don’t Reflect DRC, Syrian Refugee Crises

Refugees from the Congo war have increased by more than 350,000 in the last few months, says a UN report released on September 30. The current conflict in Syria has led to 2.1 million refugees and an additional five million internally displaced.

Yet statistics from the US refugee processing center show a disconnect from the number of refugees worldwide. At the close of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ended last week on September 30, refugees from Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Cuba represented 81 percent of the 69,930 refugees that were resettled in the US. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo represented 27 percent of the total, although the numbers were significantly front-loaded in the fall of 2012 and dropped as the fiscal year progressed.

And refugees from Syria? This group represented 0.5 percent of the total, with only 36 total Syrian refugees coming into the United States.

Barring an extended government shutdown, the new fiscal year beginning October 1 will provide an opportunity for the United States to to increase the number of refugees it accepts from Syria and the DRC from its allotment of 70,000 refugees total.

In August, Foreign Policy reported that the United States agreed to allow 2,000 Syrian refugees into the country in the upcoming fiscal year. These refugees, however, will not be coming right away. The resettlement process will also include a screening for terrorist ties, a process that will make an already laborious process even more unwieldy.

This inflated number of Syrian refugees, in addition, holds the danger of taking coveted refugee spots away from other applicants, such as from applications among the estimated 440,000 Congolese refugees waiting resettlement in Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

As the situations escalate in both Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and refugee numbers rise, the repercussions of this redistribution of numbers for the US refugee program remain to be seen.

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Guardian Maps Global Displacement Numbers

The Guardian’s Global Development team is at it again, illustrating the populations around the world with the highest levels of internal displacement.

With data provided by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council, the map shows that the countries with the three highest number of internally displaced people are Colombia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectfully. This map estimates that 2.7 million are displaced in the DRC, up from 1.7 million at the end of 2010.

This number is higher than the 2.2 million estimated by UNHCR and the 2.4 million estimated by Refugees International.

This 2.7 million does not include 490,000 refugees that have fled the country. Over 69 million live in the country in total.

MDG : world map with numberof IDP by conflict

For more information and infographics illustrating the numbers of internally displaced persons around the world, check out the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement page.

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.

Infographic: New Americans in Maine

Check out this fact-packed infographic produced by the Immigration Policy Center about the foreign-born population in Maine. My favorite stats:

  • 3.4% of Mainers are foreign born
  • 56.6% of immigrants in the state are eligible to vote
  • Immigrants are 2.8% of the state’s workforce
  • 83.1% of children with immigrant parents are proficient in English

Immigration Policy Center Infographic

Source: “The Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Pine Tree State.” Immigration Policy Center

Asylum Applicants in Portland, Maine: An Update

In the process of the research for my last article on the Congolese diaspora in Maine, I came across an October 2011 Portland Press Herald article about the overwhelming demand for asylum assistance.

The article described the incredible spike in demand for assistance for asylum applicants in Maine: in one year from 2009 to 2010, applications for asylum assistance increased from 100 cases to approximately 400. The majority of these cases, the piece read, were from Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The paper did not give a conclusive reason for the rise in asylum seekers in Maine, but did contrast this upward trend to the national average, where asylum applications fell a staggering 16 percent from 2006 to 2011. Another differing factor was the success of asylum assistance seekers being helped by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine’s sole provider of immigration legal aid to low-income residents. According to a study from Syracuse University, the success rate of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project was 97 percent, compared with the 54 percent national average of asylum seekers with lawyers.

The article mentioned that the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland was forced to stop accepting new cases in March of 2010 because of this overwhelming demand, but didn’t provide any hints towards the situation at the time of the Press Herald’s publication. I wrote to Noël Young, an asylum coordinator attorney for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project to ask for an update.

The article says that the demand for asylum assistance increased from 100 cases to about 400 between 2009 and 2010. What is the demand like today?
Young: Same. I don’t have hard numbers for you but the demand has no subsided – but I don’t think it’s increased either. We are slightly better able to deal with it, due to the creation of my position (see below), but we still have to turn people away.

The article also says that you had to stop accepting cases in March 2010 – have you begun again accepting new cases? If so, how many new cases do you take?
Yes – we began again in December 2011, although we certainly cannot take all / meet demand. My position was created and I was hired in June 2011 to deal with the increased demand and by December 2011 we had ‘reopened.’

The article stated that the majority of asylum seekers in Portland were from Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, DRC, and Somalia. Is this still the case, or are you seeing any new trends?
All is still the same, with the only addition being Angola.

Young also clarified about the migration patterns for Congolese to Maine; the first wave of Congolese that came to Portland were resettled refugees, whereas the current “explosion” in population are from asylum-seekers.

The Congolese Diaspora in Maine

From the stories pouring out of Maine, from the influx of Somalis in Lewiston to the high demand for asylum assistance in Portland, I was under the impression that Maine’s cheap housing and low crime rates were attracting a large percentage of immigrants.

Over 4,000 new immigrants have moved to Lewiston since 2001, read a Newsweek article from January 2009. At the time the article was posted in 2009, almost 1,000 students were enrolled in ESL classes at Lewiston’s adult education center. An April 2012 article from the Portland Press Herald stated that in 2010, fully 13 percent of Portland’s population was foreign born.

But upon closer investigation, I realized that Maine was trailing – big time – with their immigration numbers. What many have referred to as “America’s whitest state” isn’t technically true, but it’s close.

The state capitol building in Augusta, Maine

The state capitol building in Augusta, Maine

According to the Immigration Policy Center, 3.4 percent of Maine’s 1.27 million residents are foreign born. This population, estimated at 42,747 in 2011 by the Migration Policy Institute, ranks Maine 45th out of the total 51 in the country (MPI counts the 50 states plus the District of Columbia).

Despite the news headlines generated by the massive influx of Somalis in Lewiston and the growing diversity of Portland, the increase in the foreign-born population between the years 2000 and 2011 was one of the lowest in the country as well, ranking 47th out of 51.

As a percentage, the foreign-born population in Maine has changed 16.5 percent between 2000 and 2011, from 36,691 to 42,747. While this is a big jump from the previous decade in Maine (from 1990 to 2000, the foreign-born population changed only 1.1 percent), it is still much lower than the national percentage, which from 2000 to 2011 changed 29.8 percent (from 31.1 million to 40.3 million).

The jump from 1.1 percent to 16.5 percent, however, is the largest jump in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, only five states (Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Maine) experienced an increase in immigrant population growth from the decade earlier, and Maine’s increase was by far the largest.

Another interesting discrepancy was the immigrant populations of Portland and Lewiston compared to the rest of the state. With a total foreign-born state population of 42,747, and the 13 percent foreign-born in Portland (a total of 8,633), approximately 34,000 immigrants are left for the remainder of the state. Furthermore, if you take out the estimated 5,000 Somali and Bantu population of Lewiston, only 29,000 remain over the remainder of the state. With a population of 1.2 million (the total state population minus the populations of Portland and Lewiston), you’re looking at an immigrant population that comprises roughly 2.4 percent of the total population. The drastic difference between Portland’s immigrant population (at 13 percent) and the immigrant population of the rest of the state (2.4 percent), you can see how different the immigrant experience could be depending on the person’s geographic location.

The population of illegal immigrants is small in Maine. According to an estimate in 2007 by The Federation for American Immigration Reform, only about 0.3 percent of Maine’s overall population were in the U.S. illegally.

Maine is known as "The Vacation State."

Maine is known as “The Vacation State.”

The majority of immigrants in Maine are either Asian or Latino. The Immigration Policy Center’s website states that the Latino share of Maine’s population grew from 0.7 percent of the total state population in 2000 to 1.3 percent in 2010; the Asian share of the population grew from 0.7 percent to 1.0 percent over the same time period.

Despite the large share of Asian and Latino immigrants, 11.5 percent of the foreign born population in Maine are from Africa. This percentage is much higher than the national percentage, in which only 4.1 percent of the total immigrant population in the U.S. is African.

Although it is hard to pin down the specific number of Congolese immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are a number of statistics that hint toward an estimate.

According to the 2000 census, there were 3,885 Congolese Americans who were born in the DRC. Although the 2010 census has not come up with a specific number for foreign born from the DRC, the American Community Survey estimated that in 2010 a total of 11,000 Congolese Americans resided in the country. Fronteras reporting adds to this number, stating that an additional 3,000 immigrants came to the U.S. from the DRC in the year 2010.

Between the years of 2000 and 2004, according to Statemaster.com, there were only 64 refugees to settle in New England from the DRC, and of those 64, 11 settled in Maine.

Although I couldn’t find any other statistics about the Congolese Diaspora in the state of Maine, there are anecdotes I’ve come across that paint a rough picture of the population. In a 2012 article from the Portland Press Herald, Congolese immigrant E’nkul Kanakan is quoted as saying there were only five other families from the DRC when he arrived in Portland in 1996, and today there are between 150 and 200 families of Congolese origin in the city.

In the coming weeks I hope to travel to Maine to report on more stories about the Congolese immigrant and refugee experience in the state. I would love to tell stories about life as a Congolese American in Portland as well as life as a Congolese American in other towns and cities throughout the state. If you live in Maine and want to contact me please send me an email or Tweet.

New Pew Study on Adult Children of Immigrants

A new Pew Research Center study concludes that the 20 million adult United States-born children of immigrants are largely better off than their parents, with higher incomes, more college graduates, and a lower poverty rate.

Although the report focused on Hispanic and Asian American second generation adults, there were many interesting conclusions that were drawn about the American immigrant experience as a whole (the conclusions from Pew were analyzed from the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data). On the subject of household income, for example, second generation immigrant adults are earning an average of $58,000 to their parents’ generation $46,000 – a marked difference.

The section on education was interesting as well. Thirty-six percent of second generation adult children held college degrees (versus 29 percent of first generation immigrant adults), with only 10 percent failing to finish high school (compared to 28 percent from their parents’ generation). The 36 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree is impressive, especially when compared to the national average: only 31 percent of all American adults can say the same.

As I am currently working on a report about parenting in Congolese American immigrant families, I was particularly curious about the section raising children in the United States. “Seven-in-ten second-generation Asian Americans and eight-in-ten (81%) second-generation Hispanics say that conditions for raising children are better in the U.S. than in their parents’ country of origin.” The report says in a later chapter that 31 percent of Asian Americans give “family reasons” as the main explanation why they immigrated (and 23 percent of first-generation Hispanics give the same reason). For Hispanics, family reasons were second only to economic reasons (56 percent).

However, “Less than half of both generations rate the U.S. as better than their ancestral country as a place to maintain strong family ties.” From this it seems that second generation immigrants are happy with the opportunities for their current, more immediate family, but find it more difficult to maintain relationships with extended family than it was in their parents’ home countries.

It is interesting to point out that our subject, adult children of Congolese immigrants, comprises a very small percentage of the “black second generation” represented in this Pew study. Only three percent of black second generation adults, according to Pew, have immigrant parents. Because of this, it is difficult for us to make assertions from the study in terms of Congolese immigrant adult children, although the trends described in this study are indicative of immigrant children in general.

The one statistic I was able to draw from the Pew study that concerned specifically the black second generation immigrant population concerned living arrangements. Among the age group of 25- to 34-year-olds, fully 42 percent of black children of immigrants lived in multi-generation family households. This is much higher than than the national average for immigrants in general (26 percent) and for the American population in general (28 percent).

Despite the fact that the study is concerned mostly with Asian Americans and Hispanics, Congolese immigrants and their children should still care about the results: the projected impact of immigrant children is growing rapidly. According to Pew, “the adult second generation will grow 126% from 2012 to 2050, more sharply than the first generation (103%) or the adult population overall (42%). By 2050, the second generation will account for 16% of adult Americans, compared with about 8% in 2012.”

The proportion of black immigrants to America, in particular, is growing quickly: from 2008 to 2009 1.1 million immigrants came from Africa (second only to immigrants from the Caribbean at 1.7 million). “Immigrants from Africa were among the fastest-growing groups within the U.S. foreign-born population from 2000 to 2009. If current trends continue, some analysts predict that Africa will replace the Caribbean by 2020 as the major source of black immigration to the U.S.,” reads the Pew study.

Refugee Arrival Numbers

Thanks to Lisa Raffonelli at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, I’ve found a great new resource on the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center website. The site maps refugee arrivals by state and by country of origin. From this I found that in December 2012, two refugees from the DRC arrived in New Hampshire.

Ms. Raffonelli also pointed me toward the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s database of refugee arrivals, where I learned that in fiscal year 2012, 48 refugees from the DRC arrived in Connecticut, 67 refugees arrived in Massachusetts, 42 arrived in New Hampshire, and eight arrived in Maine.