On Tuesday I got a call from a man who had been a refugee from Eritrea. He had wanted to know if there was any way that he could get his brother who was still in the country to the United States, as he had managed to leave his country beforehand.
In order for a refugee to come to the United States, there are various qualifications that have to be fulfilled. In the past, the most important qualification was to be a direct relative of someone who was already living in the United States. It used to be that coming to the United States as a refugee was virtually impossible if you did not have a relative, as the Institute was swamped with these familial cases. It has always been the case that there are more refugees interested in coming to these country than we are capable of accomodating.
However, about 4 years ago, DNA testing and investigation uncovered that the vast majority of these family cases – as much as 80% – were fraud. Those in the United States would try to bring indirect relatives, or friends, or some times even strangers. In general, these were not done out of malicious or devious motives, but rather to help those who were in need and wanted to come to this country. Unfortunately, this presented a massive risk to the integrity of the Institute as it had potential for severely tragic consequences. More importantly, it was a betrayal of trust for the Refugee Resettlement program, as we found out that many people in the United States had lied about relatives and thus had prevented us from helping others who may have been in even more dire straits. The result is that the program of enabling American citizens to help us get their relatives was completely shut down, and now most of the work is done from the country where the camps are located. Claiming to have a relative who lives in America presents no further advantage, which is unfortunate for those who do not lie.
It is probably for the best that I could not understand the foreign words that the man said in his anger.
We may live in an age which is more impersonal, where face to face communication is no longer quite as important as I discussed in my previous blog post. However, concepts like trust are still critical in a bureaucracy. While having a brother or sister in the United States is not going to help, we still have a lot of cases where the incoming refugee does have a relative. This is all the more so in a place like St. Paul, as a refugee without relatives is more likely to be sent to a bigger city where there are more resources. The Institute would not be able to function to its full capability without these families that help take care of the incoming refugee and help them adjust to American culture and society. Naturally,the Institue suprevises these families to avoid any trouble, but there is an important trust between our bureaucracy and these families. This trust and willingness to cooperate is important if we are going to help as many people as possible. An organization where there is no trust, where there is constant squabbling and infighting will never last and will never reach its potential. It is an important lesson to understand for all of us, Council members or Live It students, as the summer starts to enter its second half.