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But refugees I met have not been aware of this policy. They think the $200 additional money is strictly their own and their suspicion that it is sometimes being diverted amounts to accusing their resettlement agency of being corrupt.

In a related way, the case of Talal Shaheen is hard to comprehend. After paying for the apartment he left behind in Turlock, the International Rescue Committee, he said, paid him $3500 for his first three months’ rent in El Cajon. Still, Shaheen feels that overall he got the short end of the stick.

“The problem,” I was told by a volunteer during a February 11 Resource Day gathering at the Family Welcome Center on East Main Street in El Cajon, “is that the resettlement agencies give refugees too little explanation of policy or actual benefits they might or might not qualify to receive. Of course, it doesn’t help that the agencies are overwhelmed by the recent flood of refugee arrivals.”

The Los Angeles Times, on February 18, stated that “nearly 800 Syrian refugees...arrived in San Diego County last year and settled in El Cajon.”

I could not look away

The purpose of the Resource Day gathering at the Family Welcome Center — attended by an estimated 30 to 40 people — was to remedy the scarcity of official communication. Informed volunteers, several having driven down from Los Angeles, sat at tables and answered questions about issues the resettlement agencies are supposed to help refugees navigate. These include how to find jobs, get legal advice, enroll themselves and their kids in schools, and find medical, disability, or mental health services. At one table I discovered there is a federal Medical Assistance Program for refugees. Hardly anyone else seemed to have heard of it.

The Resource Day was organized by Kristin Burke, a costume designer in the Hollywood movie industry who lives in Los Angeles. While working on a movie set in Atlanta, Burke read about Syrian refugees living there and became interested in their lives. She discovered that some of them were seamstresses or tailors. “After asking around, I learned it was legal to hire them. So that’s what I did,” she tells me. “I discovered they were very skilled and hard workers.”

An Empowering Refugees - Atlanta employee learned that Burke often visits her mother in San Diego County and asked if she would look into the conditions of refugees living in El Cajon after she got back to California. That launched her efforts to help locally. What she found was that, among refugees who had gotten apartments in El Cajon, many had little food and no furniture, bedding, cleaning devices, or kitchen utensils.

Burke found the living conditions of one family she met especially appalling. They had been sleeping on the floor of an unfurnished apartment for a month. That included an “80-year-old mom,” Burke told me. “I saw the conditions of other people who were existing in El Cajon, and when you contrasted those to what the refugees in Atlanta had, it was night and day. And I said, ‘Not in my backyard! I could not look away, as I realized I had the real capacity to help — I could motivate others to get involved.”

On October 16, 2016, Burke put a link on Facebook called “Second Families.” The page uses Amazon Lists to itemize numerous products the refugees need to start their new life. Once people purchase them online, said Burke, “all the items for Second Families peeps go directly to the family. No middleman.” Items such as chairs, sofas, beds, mops, clothing, blankets, pots and pans, and towels immediately began showing up on refugees’ doorsteps. In addition to the requests for needed items on the Facebook page, she has enlisted a cadre of volunteers from both San Diego and Los Angeles.

“We have over 1100 followers on Facebook,” said Burke. “As for donors, I don’t have the numbers. But if you figure that each family has 100 items on their list, and we had lists from 40 families, that is a lot of items. I have had feedback from all over the world, so I know people from many countries are buying items for these families. All of our donors are anonymous. I wish I could thank every one of them personally, but there is no way for us to know who they are.”

Blinded by torture

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement aims at assisting the “most vulnerable,” especially those who have been injured in war or tortured, have been subsisting in Middle Eastern camps on cash assistance, or have serious medical conditions.

Most recently Kristin Burke has been helping a few Syrian families who desperately need medical attention. Although the refugees are automatically enrolled by their resettlement agencies in Medi-Cal upon their arrival in California, they often cannot figure out how to make appointments with a doctor who takes it. But even by phone from Los Angeles, Burke can arrange local Medi-Cal appointments for refugees by virtue of them granting her status as their HIPAA representative. (The acronym stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law protecting the privacy of patients’ medical information.)

In all, I met six male refugees, two of their wives, and some of their children. Five of the six families have at least one member with significant medical needs. Shaheen still needs medical attention for the gunshot wound to his abdomen; also a high blood-sugar problem. Blood sugar issues seem common in the community.

Several refugees talked about their medical issues but wanted to remain anonymous out of fears engendered by President Trump’s recent attempt to enact a travel ban against people from seven Middle Eastern countries. For them I have used other names Shaheen and Raphid Al Bawi suggested to me.

The second El Cajon apartment I visited in late January was occupied by Abu Ahmed, his wife, and five children. The furnishings here were very modest. The family had come from Daraa in Syria, a city at the center of the country’s civil war. In 2011, the Bashar al-Assad regime spread a wide net in Daraa to capture citizens who had rebel sympathies. Abu Ahmed was arrested and, for 45 days, was tortured with electric shocks applied to his temples, leaving him blind.

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Comments

JOHNNYINFERNO April 12, 2017 @ 9:36 p.m.

:CORRECTION; that's close to 2 million immigrants a year to the U.S.

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JOHNNYINFERNO April 12, 2017 @ 9:26 p.m.

This mainstream article a year says it all. OVER HALF of the 2 million IMMIGRANTS pouring into the USA every year are on the dole. That's just the legal ones, not counting the 30 million+ illegals working the system,

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/09/01/immigrant-welfare-use-report/71517072/

I have compassion for refugees from war torn countries, especially if it's the Zionist Neocon War machine (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, soon to be Syria and Iran) that is pulling the trigger. But the U.S. can't be the life raft for half the world or we will go down with the ship.

Even under Sadam in Iraq the Christians where a protected group. America is doing Israel's dirty work (as usual) they are about extinct. Remember the infamous quote by Zionist jew Madeleine Albright..

: "500,000 Dead Iraqi Children Was Worth It" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omnskeu-puE

Under Obama the level of Muslim refugees, was at about 96%, which is quite obviously being used in Europe( now the U.S.) by Geroge soros, Rothschild family, to destroy the white European culture and create civil unrest, as if you resist your a racist.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/november-web-only/why-only-53-christians-2184-syrian-refugees-resettlement.html

The game plan by the New World Order? Destroy what's left of the middle class and divide and conquer the population with race/culture wars which will the population easier to control when they pull the 666 trigger.

It's obviously working, as I have my problems with Trump, especially now after Syria, and soon N Korea. but he does speak some common nationalism sense.

None

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Ponzi April 13, 2017 @ 9:02 a.m.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on the health of Iraqi refugees who settled in the United States after 2009, 67 percent of adults are unemployed, including 85 percent of those over 45 years old.

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dwbat April 13, 2017 @ 11:32 a.m.

I searched for it, and discovered that particular study first went online in 2013, so it's a bit dated. Also, there's this statement: "Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." So my advice is: Be careful what you quote, and always look at the original source (instead of what some blog reports).

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Ponzi April 13, 2017 @ 11:45 a.m.

You do realize they add that disclaimer to every report they publish. So it does not diminish the value of the work or veracity of the source.

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dwbat April 13, 2017 @ 1:14 p.m.

It seems to me (as a longtime journalist) that it cautions one to take the study with a grain of salt. If the CDC had officially endorsed it, it would indeed have more value and credence.

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jnojr April 17, 2017 @ 3:43 p.m.

"Too much" is the answer. If we are to accept hordes of "refugees", which I do not agree with, they should go somewhere that isn't one of the most expensive places in the nation, overbuilt, overcrowded, with insufficient water.

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Fulano de Tal April 23, 2017 @ 1:16 a.m.

The little truth nobody will discuss. If you ask any of those Syrian refugees what their opinion is of Israel, they will tell you it has no right to exist and the Jews should just march into the sea. We are importing more dissidents who are not the least bit interested in America's religious freedoms, they just want their tribe to have superiority and to suck up all the free stuff. Once they fully develop their sense of "entitlement" we will have to police them and fight them like the French have to fight their imported Muslims.

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