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Here's a chance to learn the facts about refugees

Last modified: 9/22/2011 12:00:00 AM
The perpetrator of the vandalism hate crime in Concord is not only prejudiced, but ignorant of the facts of refugee resettlement.

Refugees do not get a 'free ride.' Before they ever set foot on American soil, they are indebted for their airfare. The aid they receive from official resettlement is heartbreakingly little - and ends within months - because of laws and resource limitations beyond the control of local agencies. Volunteers from those agencies and grassroots organizations do their best to help refugees learn English, continue their educations and find work. Somehow, despite the incredible economic hardship, they manage to build new lives even as they overcome past traumas and adapt to a new culture.

Yes, there are challenges both for Concord and for our refugee neighbors as they settle here, but if our community makes even half the effort to understand and welcome our new neighbors as they have made just to survive, any difficulties can be surmounted.

I have met many refugee families in Concord, and universally they want the same things any of us do: to support their families in order to provide a safe home, to feed and clothe and protect their children so they can get a good education, to be free to think and speak without fear of repercussions.

Many refugees are reluctant to accept handouts and have a strong desire to be independent. At my church's food pantry, longtime volunteers have noticed that refugee clients are usually short-term visitors who are extremely grateful.

Nearly every time I have visited a refugee home, I have been showered with hospitality, including delicious food. Even with little to give, they are among the most generous people I know. And even with little to live on, they share what they have with relatives and other newcomers.

Statistics do not bear out the vandal's accusation of increased crime, either. Studies have debunked this myth. U.S.-born citizens are jailed at four times the rate of foreign born. The Migration Policy Institute found that 'immigrants have the lowest rates of imprisonment for criminal convictions in American society.' New Hampshire and Concord enjoy some of the lowest crime rates in the country and, according to charts on the city homepage, crime actually fell in the last year. At the same time, we continued to welcome refugees, who lived, worked and shopped in Concord, enhancing our economy and contributing to our community.

If you want to know more about refugees' experiences, there are many opportunities to learn at Concord Reads programs scheduled in the coming weeks. We are reading Outcasts United, by Warren St. John, a book about refugee kids and their soccer coach in a small town unsure of how to deal with these new neighbors. Concord Reads offers the community a chance to come together and discuss both the book and the issues it raises, including how to overcome misunderstandings and prejudice to understand each other better. The next event is a forum, Our Refugee Stories, tonight at 7 in the library auditorium. All are welcome.

Visit the Concord Reads 2011 Facebook page or the Concord Public Library website to get a complete schedule of events. If you want to do more, it's not too late to volunteer with Concord Reads, especially at our community soccer events and potluck on Oct. 23. Contact the library at 225-8670 for more information about the book, the events, or how to get involved.

(Deb Baker is a member of the Concord Reads committee.)


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