The Aug. 31 issue had a letter that suggested we should take a “sober” view of refugees [“Take a Sober View of Refugees,” Xpress]. I offer a differing view. I am the former director of the Center for New North Carolinians, a research and service center at UNC Greensboro that focused on refugees and immigrants.
The Piedmont area of North Carolina has a long history of receiving refugees from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Recent countries of origin include Congo, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. In 2014, Guilford County had around 1,000 refugees from 17 countries.
The U.S. State Department, Department of Homeland Security and private resettlement agencies have vetted all of these refugees. Most have lived for two or more years in a refugee camp while waiting for assignment to a resettlement country. Some have relatives in the area, which is why they are sent to the community.
Our work at the center was to support the local agencies that did the resettlement work and to do research on the refugee experience, including its impact on the community. We found that most refugees were productive, appreciative and well-engaged in getting a new life in the U.S. Those that had problems of adjustment sought help to deal with issues of PTSD and general challenges of moving to a new world.
We had no significant issues of violence, assault or poor citizenship among the refugee communities. My observation was that the first two generations of refugees had little to no criminal behavior. As refugee families acculturate into third and fourth generations, the likelihood increases that they have encounters with the criminal justice system, but in numbers no greater than other populations.
The website referenced in the “sober view” letter provided a litany of criminal behaviors in Germany committed by immigrants. It is important to note that there is a significant difference between refugees and immigrants. In the U.S., refugees are documented victims of political oppression and violence and have been displaced from their native land, and as noted above, have been vetted by public and private organizations.
Immigrants choose to come to a country to seek better living conditions and have not left their native land due to war or life-threatening circumstances. Europe’s open borders and need for labor have created a variety of complex immigration and refugee issues that are quite different from issues in the U.S. I did not find similar issues in the literature on refugees in the U.S. or in our experience with the very vibrant refugee community in Greensboro.
Well-planned and supported refugee programs can and will add diversity to a community and enrich schools, religious communities and neighborhoods.
My grandfather was a refugee who left his native country after being jailed for belonging to a fringe Christian group. We are a nation of refugees, and we should all be concerned about issues to limit our already very controlled and successful refugee resettlement programs.
— Daniel Beerman