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.

Issa’s Story Published by The Atavist

My story “The American Unsettlement System,” about the resettlement of Congolese refugee Issa and his twin brother, has been co-published by The Atavist and the Pearson Foundation on the former’s cloud-based Creatavist platform.

You can download the Storymakers iTunes app here (once you download, it, “The American Unsettlement System” is the second option under “Grand Prize Winners”). The story is best viewed on a tablet, but if you want to view the story on your computer the browser-based version is available here.

“The American Unsettlement System” incorporates audio, visual and text-based extras to enhance the original reporting. You can through the story linearly, swipe back and forth chapters to engage in the multimedia extras, or listen to the story as an audiobook.

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If you have any questions about the story, the Storymakers Award, or the Creatavist platform please contact me.

Congolese Cooking – Finally!

Ever since I started writing about the Congolese-American immigrant experience in January, I’ve been on the lookout for a good food story – nothing captures the spirit of a culture like good cooking.

So I was happy to stumble across an article in the Portland Phoenix about Yarmouth’s Ariane Kambu Mbenza and her gaufres, bite-sized cookies made on a waffle iron.

Read the original article on the Portland Phoenix’s website and get Mbenza’s recipe at ImmigrantKitchens.com.

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Do you have a story about Congolese American food in New England? Do you know of a cafe or restaurant that serves Congolese food? Contact me here

New Haven Works to Welcome Refugee Family from DRC

Check out this fantastic profile of a Congolese refugee family in Connecticut , written by Rachel Chinapen of the New Haven Register.

Chinapen’s story captures the struggles of both this family of ten as well as the agencies and organizations responsible for their resettlement. New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS), who were tasked with resettling the family, had only five days to prepare for the family’s arrival.

Click the headline below to read the story in its entirety.
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UNHCR to Build New Refugee Camp in Burundi

In May, the UNHCR reported that it will open a new refugee camp in Burundi in order to accomodate the arrival of new refugees fleeing the DRC.

The camp, the fourth in Burundi, will serve up to 13,000 people.

UNHCR has built the camp for a cost of US $2.5 million, and includes a school, health center, and water supply system, reports an article in AfriqueJet.

The refugee I profiled in April, Issa, lived in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Burundi for nine years. While in the camp, which held a population of 60,000, Issa worked many jobs, including that of a fisherman, and his brother sold food and clothing. Because of his brother’s mental health issues, Issa was able to be resettled after less htan a decade at the camp; on average, refugees live in camps for 17 years before resettlement.

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.

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.

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.