The dark underbelly of refugee resettlement in the US—churches neglecting refugees, working with questionable landlords

When I first began writing this blog in July 2007, one of the issues that attracted my attention was the puzzling decision by the Virginia Council of Churches, working for major resettlement contractor Church World Service, to place refugees in one of the worst buildings in the worst section of Hagerstown, MD.

cws logo

But, here we are 11 years later and Church World Service has placed Congolese refugees in Greensboro, NC in housing that is managed by a company that has a record of many years of troubling business practices.

I’m sure CWS rejoinder is—well give us more taxpayer money and we will get them nicer apartments. 

And, I say, this was supposed to be a public-private partnership, so how about you, CWS, raising private money from your churches to help these Africans you placed (so that North Carolina meatpackers could have cheap compliant labor)!

It all began with that fire that killed five Congolese children.  We wrote about it here (fire marshal determined food had been left on the stove).

But, that isn’t the end of it as a Congolese refugee, the father of the dead children, asks (in a heated meeting):

“We are refugees from Africa, we want to know if we have rights.”

I know what some of my readers will say to the Africans, but have some compassion, I’m sure most were never fully informed of what to expect in America.

CWS does much of our processing in Africa and they surely painted a rosy welcoming picture for the Congolese.  (In June 2013, the Obama Administration told the UN that we would take 50,000 from the DR Congo over 5 years. They are still coming!)

From Triad City Beat:

Safety concerns persist at complex that houses Congolese refugees

Congolese refugees, resettlement agencies and the owners of the Heritage Apartments give conflicting accounts of maintenance efforts in the wake of a deadly fire that took the lives of five children last month.

Greensboro meeting

Refugee contractors face unhappy tenants.

Representatives of two agencies that resettle and support refugees in Greensboro had given lengthy presentations about their menu of services to the group of Congolese refugees packed into a sweltering community room at Heritage Apartments on a recent Saturday.

One of the residents, the father of five children who were killed in a fire last month at the apartment complex, asked a pointed question.

“We are refugees from Africa,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “We want to know if we have rights.”

Many of the residents, who work low-paying and grueling jobs in chicken plants in Wilkes and Lee counties, complained about going to the hospital for treatment and coming home with insurmountable hospital bills. Others complained that their apartments lack air-conditioning units.

How about BIG CHICKEN coming up with money for the hospital bills (and air conditioners for their workers)!

Earlier in the meeting, Lynn Thompson, outreach director for the New Arrivals Institute, ventured an answer to the question about refugees’ rights, alluding to widespread community concern about the deadly fire and poor conditions at the apartment complex, which is owned and managed by the Agapion family.

Go buy your own air conditioners says resettlement agency!

“It’s really bad for us,” Anzuruni Juma said through a translator. “When we moved in we didn’t know we only had heating to keep warm in the winter, and nothing to keep cool in the summer. Sometimes we can’t even sleep and have to go to a neighbor’s place to cool off.”

Rachel Lee, a program coordinator for African Services Coalitionone of two resettlement agencies, along with Church World Services, responsible for placing refugees at Heritage Apartments — suggested the residents go to Lowes or Walmart to purchase window units for their apartments. The residents said they don’t earn enough money to be able to afford air-conditioning, prompting some talk that the refugee agencies might turn to churches for donations.

Refugee advocates not happy with Church World Serve and African Services Coalition (Ethiopian Community Development Council)

Some of the advocates directed pointed questions, alongside the residents, at the representatives of the two resettlement agencies.

See Heritage Apartments landlord has history of tenant conflict (2008), and so didn’t CWS or this ECDC subcontractor know any of this?  Do the contractors get some special benefits from choosing certain landlords?

More here.

See other posts on Greensboro, here.

So where are the humanitarian churches*** willing to help the refugees of Greensboro (and America!)?

Too busy protesting the President to do their Christian duty?


cws protest at WH 2

Those small circled signs are CWS signs. How about if CWS spends less time protesting at the White House with CAIR and more time taking better care of the refugees they place in your towns and cities!


Do you belong to one of these churches represented by CWS? If so, ask what is your church getting out of it?


***CWS Member Communions:

 African Methodist Episcopal Church