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Lugar: U.S. must do more for cities hosting refugees

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sen. Richard Lugar
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) -- Sen. Richard Lugar says the federal government must do more to help communities, including Fort Wayne, that have become home to thousands of refugee immigrants.

The Indiana Republican distributed a report this week to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying host communities are facing financial burdens because many refugees have no knowledge of English, are illiterate, or arrive with health problems.

"Staff found that resettlement efforts in some U.S. cities are underfunded, overstretched, and failing to meet the basic needs of the refugee populations they are currently asked to assist," Lugar wrote in the report released Wednesday, which was compiled by committee staffers. "... The current structure of the U.S. resettlement system is proving a strain on local resources and community relations."

For example, Allen County faced high costs for treating hepatitis B after health officials in the state's third most populous county found high rates of the liver disease among Burmese refugees settling there, one of the largest Burmese refugee communities in the nation, the report said. The report did not reveal the costs.

Like Fort Wayne, Indianapolis also has large populations of Burmese and other refugee groups.

Lugar said freeing refugees from persecution in other countries is one of this country's "noblest humanitarian traditions," but the country must realize there is some cost to that service.

"In the future, the administration may determine that an increase in Federal funding or decrease in refugee admissions is warranted. But the practice of passing the costs of resettling refugees on to local communities should not continue," Lugar wrote. "The administration and Congress must ensure that the refugee resettlement system is properly structured so that it continues to be perceived as a benefit and not a burden."

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said many groups in his city help refugees but the community also has unmet needs. In the case of the Burmese, who now number about 6,000 in the city, Henry noted most lived in refugee camps for years before coming to the U.S.

"Consequently, they were unprepared to gain self-sufficiency and employment in the 90 days of support provided under the refugee relocation program," Henry said in a statement. "This wave of humanity threatened to overwhelm our health care and social service networks."

The report included case studies on cities, Fort Wayne and Clarkston, Ga., detailing health, criminal and educational problems created by the influx of refugees. The largest concern expressed by Fort Wayne officials was its status as a preferred destination for Burmese refugees who were placed elsewhere in the country.

The report said there's no way to track where refugees relocate within the U.S., so there was no way for federal resources to follow them.

In addition to releasing the report, Lugar asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the U.S. refugee resettlement system.

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