Vermont: Refugee life meets policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Oct 16 15:47:13 UTC 2006

Refugee life meets policy

By Mariana Lamaison Sears
Burlington (VT) Free Press Staff Writer

October 15, 2006 BARRE -- Using the edge of the veil that covered her
hair, Makhpula Temirova wiped her tears one afternoon earlier this month
while seated on the floor in her home on East Street. Thinking of her five
daughters left behind in Russia was too sad, she said. The 68-year-old
woman knows she is getting older, she said, and is not likely to see them
again. Temirova and her husband, Mavlyud Temirov, along with three sons,
daughters-in-law, grandchildren and relatives, resettled in Vermont about
10 months ago from the southwest Russian region of Krasnodar. Although the
family comes from Russia and speaks Russian, they are Muslims and members
of an ethnic group known as Meskhetian Turks, originally from Georgia.

The Meskhetian Turks made up the biggest group -- about 98 people out of
166 -- to arrive in Vermont during the past 12 months through the Vermont
Refugee Resettlement Program. Oct. 1 marked the beginning of a new fiscal
year during which the resettlement program plans for the arrival of about
300 more refugees. However, for the past few years, fewer refugees than
expected have been arriving in Vermont. Migrants of the world Temirov and
Temirova -- in the Russian language, women's last names take the feminine
form by adding an "a" -- were born near Mtskheta, the ancient capital of
Georgia. Long ago, Georgia and Turkey were part of the Turkish-Ottoman
Empire, said Temirov, 71.

In 1944, when Russia and Germany were at war, Stalin forced Meskhetian
Turks out of Georgia, Temirov said. That was when his parents were killed,
he said. He also remembers a train station and many people on a train
being taken to Uzbekistan, he said. In Uzbekistan he met Temirova and they
were married in 1956, Temirov said.  The couple's three sons and five
daughters were born there, but the family and many other Meskhetian Turks
were forced from Uzbekistan, too, when the former Soviet Union collapsed
in 1989, he said. For the past 16 years they lived a miserable life in the
Russian region of Krasnodar, Temirov said, not being able to work or
travel and being deprived of social services. The family lived on whatever
they were able to grow, he said.

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program case manager Amanda Smith, who has
helped all the Meskhetian Turks relocate in Washington County, translated
Temirov's story. "It's really sad," she said. The Temirovs still have
family scattered around Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Temirova
remained silent while her husband recalled the story. At times, she could
not help crying. Her daughters would not be able to come to America, she
said. Only those in the Krasnodar region are being accepted as refugees,
she explained, and they don't live there.

Temirova's daughter-in-law, Gulchekhra, shares the apartment with the
elderly couple, her husband and three of her children. Gulchekhra, 39,
works cleaning offices in Montpelier and has been trying to learn English,
she said. "If you are older, very difficult," she said. Gulchekhra said
Meskhetian Turks drew public attention three years ago by organizing a
hunger strike, during which many died. Reporters and representatives of
international humanitarian organizations from Russia and the United States
arrived in the area and told them they could apply for refugee status.

The International Organization for Migration, in cooperation with the
governments of Russia and the United States, started a program in February
2004 to resettle Meskhetian Turks from the Krasnodar region to the United
States. "As of September 2005, 22,900 individuals had applied to the
program,"  Mark Getchell, the International Organization for Migration's
Moscow representative wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "As of Sept. 30, 2006,
IOM has processed and transported about 10,190 of these approved
Meskhetian Turk refugees from Krasnodar to the United States." Policy
behind life stories

The U.S. Department of State "is the lead agency within the federal
bureaucracy for refugee resettlement policy and plans," said Vermont
Refugee Resettlement Program Director Bob Sanders. In conjunction with the
U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, the
Department of State presents an annual admissions report to Congress,
describing the refugee situation worldwide and proposing the number of
refugees to be admitted. According to the admissions report, the proposed
maximum for refugees for fiscal year 2007 is 50,000. That number includes
refugees from five regions: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia,
Latin America/Caribbean and Near East/South Asia. The report designates a
refugee as "any person who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of
persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership to a
particular social group, or political opinion."

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program is a field office of the U.S.
Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a national nonprofit organization
that takes a portion of the total number of refugees to be relocated in
the country and divides that number among its field offices. The Vermont
program, the only refugee resettlement agency in Vermont, was established
in 1980 to help families like the Temirovs integrate into their new
communities and gain economic self-sufficiency. Numbers fall short The
Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program receives money for the services it
provides refugees from two primary federal sources: the Department of
State, which offers case management funds "on a per capita basis," and
Health and Human Services, which pays for programs that provide medical
and cash assistance for an eight-month transitional period, Sanders said.

Health and Human Services also funds a social services program via the
state of Vermont, he said. The program "is a relatively small pot of money
that supports employment assistance, English language training, and other
allowable social services for as long as five years from the date of
arrival in the United States," Sanders said. Denise Lamoureux, state
refugee coordinator, said the Vermont refugee program is "small in numbers
and limited in resources." The projected number for resettlement in
Vermont for fiscal year 2006 was 315, but only 166 arrivals materialized.
Vermont has not received its projected number of refugees in recent years,
Lamoureux said.

"This has not happened since Sept. 11, 2001, and we do not expect that
this will change soon, mostly because many of the refugees that were
selected for resettlement find themselves barred under the new immigration
law clause of 'material support,'" she said. The material support clause
was added to the immigration law after the Patriot Act of 2001 and the
Real ID Act of 2005. According to the admissions report to Congress, the
acts establish "standards for determining inadmissibility on
terrorism-related grounds, including broad definitions of what constitutes
engaging in terrorist activity."

"The expansion of the scope of the terrorist activity inadmissibility
provision has meant that some individuals and groups who are engaged in
opposition to repressive regimes, including some who present no apparent
national security risk, may now be barred from admission to this country,"
the report reads. "Refugees who do not come continue to live without hope
and human dignity, in refugee camps or in precarious conditions, without
basic rights,"  Lamoureux said. Officials at the Vermont Refugee
Resettlement Program and refugee services providers and volunteers are
concerned, Sanders said. Like the Temirovs, families around the world are
directly affected and so are the communities where refugees move.

"More than 80 percent of employable refugees are working within four
months of their arrival. They go to work, pay taxes, care for their
families -- all while adjusting to a strange culture and operating in a
foreign language," Sanders said. "The cultural diversity they bring makes
their communities stronger and their neighbors more understanding, more
worldly and more civil."


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