The same day that The Tennessee Star discovered complaints publicized on YouTube by the refugee service volunteers in Murfreesboro made against refugee resettlement contractor World Relief for failing to provide basic and essential services, both Sens. Alexander and Corker’s offices were contacted for comment.
Sen. Corker’s office never responded and while Sen. Alexander’s media contact asked for and was given additional time to look into the matter before responding, days later no comment was ever received.
During the March “Murfreesboro Muslim Youth” (MMY) meeting soliciting help for refugees brought to Rutherford County by World Relief, refugee service organizer Melissa Sohrabi started crying while detailing the contractor’s neglect and failure to provide even basic survival services to the refugees they placed in Murfreesboro:
[the third family] had nothing but a mattress and sheets, no blankets. They didn’t know how to work the thermostat, they were freezing. They were scared and they were so relieved because Saffi knew their language. They had been there for several days with no contact with anyone. They did not know how to get in touch with their caseworker and with no language skills they didn’t know where to go or who to ask to even how to get help.
We immediately took them to Greenhouse Ministries which is a great support system helping underprivileged people here in Murfreesboro and they graciously, with very few questions, gave them blankets and food and clothes and dishes and toiletries and that is how we began.
All federal resettlement contractors are required to comply with a Cooperative Agreement signed with the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration, in which they agree to provide certain “core” services:
[refugees will be] met at the airport upon arrival in the United States by someone from the sponsoring resettlement affiliate and/or a family member or friend. They are taken to their apartment, which has basic furnishings, appliances, climate-appropriate clothing, and some of the food typical of the refugee’s culture. Shortly after arrival, refugees are helped to start their lives in the United States. This includes applying for a Social Security card, registering children in school, learning how to access shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments, and connecting refugees with needed social or language services.
The federal contractors are paid a “per capita grant” of $2,025 for each individual refugee they resettle with a portion of the funds being retained by the contractor. But the Cooperative Agreement which World Relief signed cautions that the public money being paid to them to resettle refugees in local communities, is only “intended to augment private resources available to the Recipient [refugee resettlement agency].” (emphasis added).
In 2012, at the request of five senators, including Sen. Bob Corker, the General Accounting Office issued a report titled, Refugee Resettlement: Greater Consultation with Community Stakeholders Could Strengthen Program in which it was noted that:
Because refugees are generally placed in communities where national voluntary agency affiliates have been successful in resettling refugees, the same communities are often asked to absorb refugees year after year. One state refugee coordinator noted that local affiliate funding is based on the number of refugees they serve, so affiliates have an incentive to maintain or increase the number of refugees they resettle each year rather than allowing the number to decrease.
World Relief’s offices in Nashville and Memphis are the “agency affiliates” of its national headquarters located in Baltimore. In February, they closed five offices including the one in Nashville, blaming President Trump’s temporary suspension of the program.
In 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing addressing problems in the U.S. refugee resettlement program and issued a report titled Abandoned Upon Arrival: Implications for Refugees and Local Communities Burdened By a U.S. Resettlement System That is Not Working:
This study finds that resettlement efforts in many U.S. cities are underfunded, overstretched and failing to meet the basic needs of the refugee populations they are currently asked to assist….
These newcomers place demands, sometimes significant, on local schools, police, hospitals and social services. Local governments are often burdened with the weight of addressing the unique assistance refugees require, yet they rarely have an official role in influencing how many refugees are resettled by local voluntary agencies and often are not even informed in advance that new residents will be arriving.
Sen. Corker who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a sitting member of this committee when the 2010 hearing was held. The nature of the problems have not changed and as the Murfreesboro group highlights, seem to have worsened. Both Corker and Governor Haslam who supports continued refugee resettlement to Tennessee communities, have chosen to ignore the issues, forcing the Tennessee General Assembly to take action by passing SJR467 and initiating its own lawsuit.