A letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
by Badi M Ali
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State Dear Madam Secretary: I am writing in support of the International Rescue Committee report, Iraqi Refugees in the United States in Dire Straits. The government has a responsibility to serve refugees brought to our country for resettlement in a humane and fair way. This comprehensive and well thought out report lists structural reforms that could be implemented immediately to prevent life-threatening poverty and homelessness in our refugee communities.
I do have one concern about the report’s suggestion to suspend housing guidelines, and fear this will result in refugees being placed in unsafe housing. The point, however, is understood that poor housing is better than homelessness. However, substandard housing can lead to deaths, lead poisoning or injuries.
Unless these reforms or similar ones are implemented immediately, which assure at least basic subsistence needs are met, the US should stop allowing refugees to be resettled here and direct aid to the UN for the neighboring countries of Iraq, who will be forced to absorb an even greater number of refugees. Communities in the US cannot address the resettlement needs of refugees with the current level of support.
A high percentage of Iraqi refugees have been tortured. They endured sanctions before the war and have arrived here with significant health and mental health issues. Many are young widows with children who have not been in the workforce. It is unrealistic to expect special-needs refugees to work immediately, especially when highly motivated and healthy refugees and many Americans are finding it very difficult to find work in an overcrowded and competitive workforce.
It is commendable that the Obama administration is evaluating the hardships faced by refugees seeking resettlement in the US. Attention to this humanitarian crisis has been needed for many years and most critically since the global economic downturn. I celebrate your efforts, Madam Secretary, for the health of women and children and your steadfastness in purpose.
The recent per capita increase from $900 to $1,800, as you are aware, is completely unrealistic to address the needs of refugee families who are unable to find work. The mission of resettlement is to relocate families with dignity into a safe environment and this cannot be accomplished without ongoing, adequate transition, medical, psychological and financial support. Even at the best moments of refugee resettlement, the success of the task depended upon support from the resettlement community through state contribution and private donations. With the economic recession, communities cannot be counted upon to provide the same level of financial support and due to high unemployment any jobs that are available are highly competitive. Whereas, in the past, refugees could find employment fairly quickly, now it may take many months, or refugees may be unable to work.
The government must consider how a refugee family can survive without employment or built-in sheltered employment opportunities.
I, too, am dedicated to making the refugee resettlement program work in order to help refugee families build new lives in our country. But to work in good faith with these families, there must be enough resources to give them a fair and honest chance, and at the very least keep all of the family safe and alive.
The refugee families cannot survive without immediate and significant reform to the refugee program.
Thank you for your kind attention to this very important concern.
Yours sincerely, Badi M Ali President, Islamic Center of the Triad