Statement of Mayor Henry on Senator Lugar’s report on refugee relocation issues

City of Fort Wayne Seal

Press release from the City of Fort Wayne:

Statement of Mayor Tom Henry on Senator Richard Lugar’s report on refugee relocation issues

Senator Richard Lugar issued a report today on the nation’s refugee relocation program. It is a spotlight that the people of Fort Wayne welcome. Our community is home to the largest population of Burmese refugees in the United States, placing Fort Wayne on the frontline of this human rights tragedy and has created enormous challenges for our entire city.

I am delighted to say that against the odds and with little external support, our community has come together to address these ongoing issues, becoming a model of response under the most difficult of circumstances. But our community needs and deserves support from our governmental partners.

Senator Lugar’s report highlights the weaknesses of the current program:

  • Communities are not asked or even informed of the arrival of thousands of refugees;
  • Schools and health care organizations are not given the resources necessary to meet the needs of the refugees and to protect the public health; and
  • Refugees are dumped into communities without necessary language or educational resources to succeed.

Please allow me to put this into context using Fort Wayne’s story as an example. Over the last two decades, the despots of Myanmar have brutalized the people of Burma and hundreds of thousands fled the country to refugee camps in Southeast Asia. In the early years, a few fortunate Burmese made it out of the country and came to Fort Wayne. By 2006, Fort Wayne had a significant Burmese population. That year, the United States agreed to resettle 50,000 Burmese and, without warning or consultation, Fort Wayne became a primary center for an unprecedented surge in Burmese refugee relocation.

In the space of two years, thousands of refugees were brought or arrived in Fort Wayne. The total has now risen to nearly 6,000. The majority of these refugees had been in rudimentary refugee camps for years. Consequently, they were unprepared to gain self-sufficiency and employment in the 90 days of support provided under the refugee relocation program. This wave of humanity threatened to overwhelm our health care and social service networks.

In response, I brought together the many groups that were struggling to meet the challenge. In addition I began to work with Senator Lugar, Senator Evan Bayh and others to understand the situation and seek support.

At the local level, our community responded with compassion and hard work. The talent and dedication of our health and nonprofit providers has been evident on a daily basis. Today, we continue to meet the challenge of a large refugee population that has not received the federal support it needs. The situation is far from perfect and much more needs to be done.

My thanks go to Senator Lugar for his leadership and support on this matter that speaks to the core of the American experience and the immigrant heritage so many of us share. The current program is unfair to communities and cruel to refugees. I hope the Senator’s report is given the attention it deserves and is the basis for significant change.

I remain proud of the extraordinary and innovative response to this situation by our community service providers. I am equally proud of the open hearts and generous spirit shown by our All-America City to our new Burmese residents. As Mayor of Fort Wayne, I will continue to press our representatives in Washington aggressively for the essential support that communities such as mine that have opened their arms to refugees deserve to receive.

Related weblinks:
Senator Lugar’s report
Senator Lugar’s press release

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