Immigration: I know this should be a series of showing the hope and dreams of refugees given the honor of coming here to America. But its not filling me with a lot of joy so far.
|"For the Somalis in this northern Kenya refugee camp, passing a class in America 101 is the final hurdle to boarding airplanes for new lives. As they fly toward the United States, they will learn for the first time where their new homes will be.
A speed-read through American culture, the U.S.-mandated class tries to prepare them for what they will find when they arrive. It covers everything from mini-malls and microwaves to same-sex marriage.
For most of the students, ranging in age from 4 to 65, it's a steep learning curve. They've spent much of their lives fleeing Somalia's 15-year civil war, scrambling to survive in the bush or toiling in squalid refugee camps. Most come from persecuted ethnic groups and clans, such as the Bantu or Ashraf, that were the first to lose what little property they had after the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in 1991. Now those same injustices have made them eligible to escape to the United States.
The cultural orientation class is one of hundreds given each year in Africa by the International Organization for Migration, or IOM, one of the world's largest refugee-assistance groups, which organizes the class with funding from the U.S. State Department.
Such programs began in the 1970s for Southeast Asian refugees heading to the United States. Back then, immigrants spent months at transition camps, learning the English language and American customs before entering the country. Over the years, budget cuts have pruned the orientation program to less than a week.
"In just three days, there is not a lot that we can realistically do," said Pindie Stephen, the group's regional coordinator for the classes in Kenya. "All we can do is plant the seeds of values and concepts they will encounter later. And we try to dispel myths, because so much of what they learn is from the rumor mill."|
This would be one of those programs you don't cut the budget because basically taking people and dumping them in America making them learn as they go is not a smart idea. Some of them have values that are bit off-putting.
|"....Of the 25 students, only one spoke English, so Kassim practiced some key English phrases.
"Po-LEESE! Po-LEESE!" the students recited in unison, practicing a 911 call.
Coming from a country without government or law, the idea that help is only a phone call away amazed Yussuf, whose parents were killed and who is traveling to the U.S. alone. "So if anyone bothers me, I just call 911 and the police come and beat them?" she asked. "Life must be very easy."
Immigrants also heard about U.S. laws. Beating your wife and children is illegal, they were told, and so is chewing khat, the leafy amphetamine-like stimulant popular in Somalia. Performing genital excision on young girls is prohibited.
"If I can't beat my wife, how will she know that I love her?" Abrone asked, seated next to his silent teenage bride.
Monogamy was equally unpopular with some men, who said their religion permitted four wives. But Kassim shut down the debate. "It doesn't matter," he told them. "In the U.S. you'll barely be able to afford one wife, anyway."
The second day of class began with an exercise in equality. Students broke into teams and were asked to identify which potential U.S. jobs — taxi driver, hairdresser or doctor, for example — were held exclusively by men and which were held by women. It was a trick question, designed to spark a discussion about gender equality.
In one group, Abdi Ahmed Mohammed, 56, a former Mogadishu shopkeeper, grabbed the worksheet and began dividing the occupations by gender.
"Wait," Yussuf complained. "Why is 'housekeeper' female?"
"It's woman's work," Mohammed snapped, checking the box for "female."
As the instructor began calling on students to defend their answers, it became clear that, at least in the U.S., the correct answer for all jobs was "both." Mohammed began discreetly erasing his worksheet, and when the instructor asked for his answer for "baby-sitter," he covered the paper with an arm and answered confidently, "Both." |
The refugees already here don't seem to be helping matter much as they go straight for the scare tactics.
|Some refugee experts worry that the classes focus too heavily on such basic household lessons.
"They can learn about flushing toilets and riding buses once they get there," said Hussain Mahmood, head of the Kakuma branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which also works with Somali refugees. "Instead, I think they'd be better served by a frank discussion about the discrimination and hostilities they may face as Muslims or Africans in the U.S. What's going to happen when a woman in a scarf meets some skinhead? I'd like to see more about dealing with those cultural challenges."|
Hostilities and racists? They are coming from Somolia where violence, civil war, tribal and religious hostilities are off the charts compared to America. The fact this UN lackey can still find fault and put it on the same level as the troubles they are leaving is irritating. Besides the fact most of the refugees will be settling in areas with other people from Somolia who you hope will help them settle in to the America way of life.