Arizona: Advocates look to improve refugee care

By Kristen Moulton | The Salt Lake Tribune

Phoenix was jolted last summer by allegations that four boys, all refugees from Liberia, lured an 8-year-old girl to a storage shed and raped her.

Refugee resettlement workers fought the public’s impulse to stereotype Liberian refugees as dangerous. After police quoted the father of the victim, who is also Liberian, saying he would disown her, a deputy Liberian ambassador visited Phoenix and said the comment had been misinterpreted.

The attack also has advocates taking stock of how care for refugees can improve.

“I do hope that in refugee resettlement, we’ll think about what we’ve learned and will truly say, ‘These are indicators of things we should be looking at,’” said Charles Shipman, Arizona’s coordinator of refugees.

Some of the boys, ages 9, 10, 13 and 14, lived with distant relatives. During one court hearing this fall, according to The Arizona Republic, the 9-year-old’s teacher described him as neglected and underfed. He lived with an aunt.

Refugee advocates in Arizona, challenged by the poor economy, also are being driven to become more creative. They are cultivating executives and business groups more than ever, Shipman said.

“It’s sort of like a ‘Duh’ moment,” he said. “Some things we’re learning now we should have been learning before.”

Necessity is also forcing more collaboration with volunteers and nonprofit groups, he said. Those working on homelessness, for example, can help find solutions for refugee housing woes. “It’s sort of drilling down and realizing there is more potential,” Shipman said.

Shipman said he finds refugees’ resiliency remarkable. He notes that most refugees, many of them survivors of rape and torture, thrive in America.

“The fact they have any normalcy, to build better lives, is amazing,” he said.