WAMC News
10:27 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Springfield Mayor Renews Call For Moratorium On Refugee Resettlements

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 6:22 pm

The Mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts has renewed a call for an end to new refugee resettlements in Springfield.  Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal said the mayor has raised concerns that need to be addressed.

     Mayor Domenic Sarno first called for a moratorium on refugee resettlements in Springfield 10 months ago, but then backed off amid criticism from social service providers and advocates for immigrants. Sarno said his office recently learned that up to 70 refugees will be settled in Springfield in the coming year.

     " No mas. What we have I want to help. That is in my nature, in my DNA, but you can not give me a formula that is going to fail for these refugees."

         Sarno made his concerns known in letters he sent late last week to Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, and Governor Deval Patrick.

    " I feel for these refugees. I want to help, but enough is enough. You can not keep concentrating poverty on top of poverty."

       Sarno, speaking with reporters Monday, harshly criticized the refugee resettlement system where the U.S. State Department contracts with local social service agencies to secure housing and other support for refugees from places such as Somalia and Iraq.

     " To have agenies  get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to track these refugees for just  eight months. A transition from war-torn countries to a place they've never seen before is unacceptable. There is no coldness in my heart," Sarno said.

    After their time with the social service agencies ends, refugees can fall victim to unscrupulous landlords, a problem acknowledged last year by refugee advocates.  Springfield housing officials had to move 11 refugee families out of condemned apartments this year.  Last month, a Somali family with 12 children was discovered by city inspectors living in a roach-infested apartment with no electricity.

    " Let  us help what we have right now. Refugees have come to me and said we can't get in touch with anyone from these agencies."

     Sarno’s call last year for a moratorium on refugee resettlements led to a series of meetings between his administration and representatives of social service agencies, but the mayor said there has been no progress on the issues he raised last summer.

       Sarno and Congressman Neal spoke briefly at an event the two attended Monday morning, and Neal said he would follow up after reading the mayor’s letter.

      " He has some very serious concerns that need to be acknowledged. If people are living in substandard housing and have been promised help that has not materialized.  I think hearing what the mayor has to say is important."

       Neal said he would also seek an explanation from the social service agencies that have government contracts to resettle refugees.

       The official in charge of refugee resettlement for  The Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts did not return a call seeking comment.

       The Western Massachusetts Refugee and Immigration Consortium said there are more than 10,000 refugees from more than 25 countries living in western Massachusetts.

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