Thursday, August 23, 2012

Buffalohair: Refugee NGOs in the US Need Oversight Part 1

Refugee NGOs in the US Need Oversight, Part 1

I visit Burmese refugee communities regularly and I’ve come to the conclusion refugee aid organizations are in dire need of an oversight committee or a healthy ass kicking. With American tax dollars filling the coffers of these groups it is clear some NGOs either need to shape up or simply be disbanded and in some cases, face criminal charges. From paying exorbitant rents for trashy dumps to the mishandling of legal & medical issues by incompetent or tribally prejudiced interpreters, some refugees are being thrown under the bus for fun and profit.

This weekend I spent Ramadan with Burmese Muslims in an apartment complex that was populated by refugees from many Islamic nations. Typically refugees get resettled in older apartments that are refurbished. Many complexes are in good condition and some are compatible with more upscale dwellings. But there are a few that are run down with dangerous flaws covered up with paint to mask the rotted wood, broken plaster or shabby electric wiring. It is these apartments that really get my ire since they are commanding premium rental fees for squalor and some nonprofits aren’t doing their job.

I’ve visited one complex where there was yellow caution ribbons warning that the guard rail and the concrete on the upstairs walkway was broken. I could see to the ground floor through the rebar and the holes in the walkway. Kids were running around this dilapidated complex without a care in the world but it was obvious their little lives were in danger. On the ground floor were big chunks of concrete that dislodged from the upstairs walkway. And it was only a matter of time before someone was conked on the head or fell through the floor. Now that would leave a mark.

When I asked my refugee host about the condition of the upstairs walkway he informed me it was broken for 10 months and the only thing that changed was the caution ribbon. Plumbing was another issue and some places had that fetid sewer smell. But when I asked some of the other refugees they really did not have anything to compare this with and thought everything was A-OK. Some folks were just happy to have a roof over their heads and did not want to make waves for fear of retribution. But to learn they were paying over $500 a month for a depression era dump pissed me off since the taxpayer was footing the bill.

Some management companies or slum lords systematically charged refugees with late fees even when they paid their rent on time or early. Other management firms would charge double rent if a second family was sharing the apartment. Who was allowing this in the first place? Some NGOs and management companies were in collusion and sharing the government bounty so chatting with them about conditions was like talking to a brick wall. One response I got was, “Well they don’t know any better” or “They lived in a jungle so this is the Ritz to them”. In a fair market society these places would not be worth $100 a month. Some would be better off condemned.

Don’t get me started on pestilence for that is yet another horror story. West Nile is rampant down here and Dengue Fever is just around the corner. Dare I mention the presents of Stachybotrys, better know as Black Mold, at many of these apartment complexes? I’ve even seen where kids were doodling in the mold with their fingers. Some refugee apartment complexes are nothing more than mosquito factories. A refugee mentioned their apartment was full of bed bugs before they moved in. Cockroaches and other critters rule the night since management companies never fumigated and building repairs were only superficial to fool building inspectors. Kids with insect bites were all over the place and adults did not fair any better. The fear of authority figures has become a most profitable tool for unscrupulous management firms & shady NGOs and they have exploited this to their advantage.

Legitimate building management practices could have given these refugees a cleaner & healthier life. There is no excuse for the conditions these apartments are in. I’ve visited older complexes with refugees from Burma, Angola and other third world countries that were paying 4 to 5 hundred dollars a month that were fresh, clean and well maintained. The quality of life was much better since people were not getting sickened in waves like others in dingy slums they were relegated to by their NGO handlers. I’ve seen with my own eyes and have spoken to various management firms and NGOs about the conditions of these apartments. Many are honest but there are a few boneheads that need to be called into check for blatant disregard for refugees in their charge who live in these cesspools.

Why should anyone be concerned about the living conditions of a few refugees from Burma, Somalia or anywhere else? First of all; substandard living conditions increase the opportunity of pestilence. West Nile, Dengue Fever and Stachybotrys are risks today and it’s directly associated with squalid living conditions. Placing refugees in dilapidated apartments is a formula for disaster such as the case of the crumbling second floor walkway. The financial burden on Medicaid & Healthcare is on the increase as a direct consequence. Assimilation into American society is about bringing the refugees standard of living up to speed, not placing them back in third world conditions. It is not OK to place people in dumps when we-the-people are paying premium prices for quality housing. How far beyond stupid is that?

Don’t give me the ole song and dance, “Well we can’t be everywhere all the time”, that don’t fly with me since I’ve been to these apartment complexes countless times over the last 6 years only to discover nothing has changed. If there is an oversight committee in place, they need to be fired and a new crew hired because it is clear they are NOT doing their job or they are on the take like some NGOs I’ve explored. If there is not an oversight committee of some kind in place it is obvious the NGO community in the USA is incapable of policing themselves.

Not all refugee enclaves are filthy disease factories but there are enough that still harbor thousands of refugees living in danger and possibly death from both physical and biological hazards. In all fairness there are many shining examples of quality, clean and safe apartment complexes that provide for refugees around the nation responsible NGOs guide them to. And they would have nothing to fear from a comprehensive audit of their operation. Even ‘Project Housing’ must pass muster and be maintained in the Barrio and the Hood. Guess what pulls my chain about all this is the fact I was a safety inspector and was fluent with the Code of Federal Regulation and every aspect of public safety, including emergency management. There is no excuse for the conditions some of these refugees must endure while living in America, other than greed and corruption. Go figure……..

Your Devil’s Advocate

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