Recent crimes involving refugees have brought national focus to Twin Falls, as some local residents worry that the refugee resettlement program has been forced on Twin Falls without proper oversight or public debate. From the sexual assault on the five-year-old girl allegedly perpetrated by refugee boys said to be from Iraq and Sudan, to the the recent charges that an African molested a 33-year-old mentally handicapped woman and the arrest of a refugee for coming back to Twin Falls to kill people that he’d met in the refugee program, people are asking who these refugees are.
The Idaho Office for Refugees has some answers…and they aren’t pretty.
Idaho is one of fourteen states that have withdrawn from the federal refugee resettlement program. Refugees are currently resettled there by voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) and their local affiliates (College of Southern Idaho and Idaho Office for Refugees) under the statutorily questionable Wilson-Fish alternative program.
On one hand, the Idaho Office for Refugees describes refugees as “pre-drug tested, punctual, reliable and honest, trustworthy, quick learners and very positive.”
That same organization, however, also provides a brochure to employers giving descriptions as to how to interact with their cultures.
Even the hiring process or a job interview is fraught with dangers that might trigger a refugee. As the Handbook explains:
Some refugees suffer from PTSD (post‐traumatic stress disorder) from their excruciating experiences of leaving their country, torture, violence, separation from loved ones and time spent in refugee camps.
Triggers for PTSD can involve
– Panels (like at an interview or meeting), which can be reminiscent of a torture or interrogation session
The brochure also provides a culture-by-culture description that explains to employers how they need to adjust to the refugees. Rather than reassuring future bosses that the refugees they might hire have been told that since they are in America, they need to adjust to America society, the brochure—worth reading in its entirety—makes it clear prospective employers are going to be dealing with workers who view the world very differently.
Take, for example, the description of the Sudanese, one of the groups that Twin Falls has been importing:
Cooperation within the group is critical, and it is considered taboo to promote one’s self interest above the community interests. One Sudanese case manager notes that the most important cultural note for the Sudanese is to learn the importance of time in the U.S. (e.g., making and keeping appointments and following schedules). A Nuer source said the Sudanese do not accept the concept of “no.” They may need guidance setting realistic goals, managing time and making decisions.
How does that description of “doesn’t understand the concept of no” work out in practice?
The Nuer people mentioned by the Idaho Office for Refugees are an ethnic group concentrated in South Sudan. As the Associated Press and NBC recently reported:
The soldier pointed his AK-47 at the female aid worker and gave her a choice.
“Either you have sex with me, or we make every man here rape you and then we shoot you in the head,” she remembers him saying.
She didn’t really have a choice. By the end of the evening, she had been raped by 15 South Sudanese soldiers.
Twin Falls has also been importing refugees from Eritrea and Burma…but don’t look them in the eye. As the official brochure from the Idaho Office for Refugees warns you:
Roughly half of Eritreans are Muslims and half are Christians. Eye contact in the first encounter is generally viewed as a sign of disrespect; avoiding eye contact and looking away are considered as virtues equated to reverence.
How about the Burmese?
Direct eye contact can be another cultural difference, as looking a speaker in the eye can be considered an act of challenge.
Okay, so we won’t look them in the eye. Let’s just keep it friendly and ask about the wife and kids, yes? No. Bad Move.
In the section on Iraq’s culture, which they describe as valuing “patriarchal” society, the brochure states:
In Muslim society, there is a much greater difference between public and private behavior than in Western societies. In traditional families, it is an invasion of privacy, for example, for a man to ask another man how his wife is; one asks instead how his family in general is, or how his children are.
So, don’t ask an Iraqi about the wife. And REALLY don’t ask an Afghan. In the section on Afghanistan, it says:
It is considered a breach of manners among liberal Afghans, and an act requiring revenge among conservatives, for a man to express interest of any sort in another man’s female relatives.
No word from the Office about whether the Afghans imported are “conservative” or “liberal” so you’re on your own to figure out if you were just rude or whether someone is going to seek revenge.
How about the simplest of acts—giving instructions to employees and making sure they understand those instructions. Good luck with that one, as the handbook makes clear:
In some cultures, saving face is very important, and some refugees might agree and say yes automatically in response to directions or questions when they might not fully understand. Conversely, some refugees might say no when they do understand things as an act of modesty, so as not to seem like they are bragging.
But at least they will show up on time, right? After all, refugees are described as “punctual.” Not so much, as the brochure describes like an ethnic studies teacher explaining multiculturalism to their freshman class:
In Western culture, time is seen as a limited resource which is constantly being used up. In other cultures, time is more plentiful, if not infinite.
In time‐limited cultures, punctuality is extremely important. It is insulting to waste someone’s time, because “time is money.”
In cultures where time is plentiful, like India or Latin America, this is not the case. To avoid misunderstandings, communicate clearly to employees that punctuality is imperative for your business, and communicate expectations about being on time.
Remember: all of these descriptions come from a brochure telling people why they SHOULD hire refugees, not a racist screed written by Nazis.
So, why hire a refugee? The brochure makes that clear, too: money.
Agency For New Americans Idaho (ANAIdaho) has created a summary of the incentives available to employers looking to hire refugees. On a federal level, many businesses can take advantage of a Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which offers a tax credit of up to $2,400 per refugee. Additionally, according to ANAIdaho ”the Idaho Department of Labor pays up to 50% of a refugee’s salary up to $5,000 for an agreed upon period of training,” as well as “the full salary for up to 520 hours of supplemental employment for a refugee.”
The cost to taxpayers doesn’t stop there, however.
The local refugee resettlement center explains that the refugees themselves receive many thousands of dollars to support their first eight months in Idaho. If flying in from Salt Lake City they will be met at the airport by a refugee resettlement coordinator. The refugees will be taken to an apartment “furnished with both required and additional items” with enough “culturally appropriate” food to last for three days; the next day they are given their first check and driven to the bank. Usually within two days of arriving they will be brought into an office to be given information about the town and how to integrate into the culture, and upon leaving are then “offered a trip around town to do follow-up food shopping.”
Within the first 90 days of their arrival, the refugees’ apartment deposit and first month’s rent will be paid for as well as “a week or two of food — depending on the size of the family.” This totals $1,125 per person, all money used by the Refugee Center and provided by the U.S. Department of State.
After these first thirty days and until they hit a certain income level or eight months have elapsed — whichever comes first — the refugees will be provided a certain amount of money per month: “one person receives $382 monthly, and a family of four receives $782. For one person, the case is closed once he or she earns $637 per month; or $1,303 for a family of four.” This money comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The refugees also become eligible for a matching grant after their first 30 days. This is equivalent to “$200 per adult and $40 per child per month. Refugees are also eligible to receive lump sums of $150 periodically, such as 120 days after arrival.” The refugees are also given assistance maintaining extended employment for up to five years. As Zeze Rwasama, director of the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, says: “the Refugee Center helps them try to resolve any issues with those jobs, such as working conditions or conflicts with management.”
Conflicts…like making eye contact or asking about someone’s wife. Welcome to the exciting world of refugee employment.