Shifting focus and money: How immigrant crisis may hurt refugees

Published: Jul. 3, 2014 at 10:09 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now)

Undocumented children from Central America are getting a lot of help in Southern Arizona as immigration workers try to deal with their cases, but that also means the focus is turning away from others who are in the U.S. from other countries and are also seeking help.

The money for assisting refugees comes from the same pot as the money that assists the children from Central America.

It means the money is shifting to help the children.  Those who work with refugees in Tucson, such as Refugee Focus, say that will spell disaster.

Because of several factors, including many entry-level jobs, Arizona is one of the top five states for refugees. They come from refugee camps and war-torn countries where rape is a weapon of war. Many are mothers with children.

The United States has pledged to accept 70,000 refugees a year out of 15 million refugees worldwide.

As federal money is cut, the danger is that the burden to help refugees will fall on local communities that would be strained by the need.

"If we only are able to provide a few months of services, it leaves immigrants and refugees coming into the country in an immediate crisis situation," says Refugee Focus Director Nicolle Trudeau.

Tucson News Now spoke with Trudeau and refugee clients at the agency's Tucson office. 

“Right now, my kids are going to school, preparing for their future for now. I didn't get chance, but right now I'm learning English, hopefully, very soon I can get a job and start working, supporting myself and my family,” says Jeanine Balezi, a translator speaking for Nashimwa Namugisha, a mother of five children who escaped with them from Democratic Republic of Congo.

She says war has separated her and the children from her husband.

Trudeau says Refugee Focus helps them resettle here, helping them learn English so they can get jobs. and providing housing, education and mental health services.

Trudeau says nearly all of the refugees, no matter their situation, are employed within six months after they arrive. They receive additional assistance after that as they need it. 

However, money being reallocated to care for the Central American children means the programs are in danger.

“So the difference for a mother who has six children to raise, who has been through years of trauma to have somebody who can provide her language skills and support and counseling services and really help her get on her feet versus coming here and being expected to do it all by herself,” Refugee Focus Director Nicolle Trudeau says. “It makes a big difference in regards to the outcome of what that family's life is going to be like.”

“In America, life is not easy. You have to have someone who can take your hand and show you directions,” says Nshimire Mulumeoderwa, a refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo".

“I have seen some immigrants like--they come by themselves and then they are trying to adjust and it is such a disaster for them,” says Purna Budathoki, a refugee from Bhutan who now works for Refugee Focus.  He also is president of the Bhutanese Mutual Assistance Association of Tucson. 

Trudeau says Congress is being urged to allocate more money for both the Central American children and the refugee programs. She says the reallocation of funding is not only devastating refugee programs, it's not enough for the children.

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