Monday, October 13, 2008

Today's refugees face harsher adjustment as program funding, flexibility lag

Refugees today are having a harder time than earlier refugees did. The programs to help them get settled are underfunded and not able to deal with all the different backgrounds they are from. DP

By Kristen Moulton, The Salt Lake Tribune Tan Ly was just 19 in May 1979, when, late one night, he squeezed onto a 28-foot boat with 453 other people fleeing Vietnam.

For five days, he sat shoulder to shoulder with other refugees as the boat rolled over the South China Sea toward Malaysia. There was no food, no bathroom. Thai pirates stopped the boat twice, stripping Ly and other passengers of everything but their underwear.

Ly and his father, Hoang Tuoi Ly, lived for months in a jungle island refugee camp in Malaysia before heading for the U.S. When they finally arrived on a winter morning at Salt Lake City International Airport, Ly wore camp-issued flip-flops, a woman's blouse and slacks.

"We would do anything for freedom," says Ly, now a chief engineer at Hill Air Force Base who, by all measures, has achieved the American dream.

His experience, though, is not shared by many of today's refugees. More and more, they fail to attain even a shadow of the American dream. Ill-equipped for the United States' tough-love approach that expects quick assimilation, many live in poverty. Hope for a better life soon turns to despair.

"Most of the refugees from Burma are saying, ... 'We want to go back,' " says Zaw Htike of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, who works with fellow Burmese.

Refugees who fail today do so for assorted reasons, but much of the problem boils down to this: The 28-year-old program is simply inadequate, structurally and financially, to the task of assimilating today's diverse refugees who range from
illiterate Africans to educated Iraqis to Burmese who have spent generations in refugee camps.
Be sure to read the rest of this story! This is only a small part of it.

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