Kentucky: Officials disputes claim refugees left without the basics

By Kristen Moulton | The Salt Lake Tribune

Cindy Florez says her Halloween weekend visit to a new refugee family she has befriended in Bowling Green, Ky., was scary.

The family of four Karenni refugees from Myanmar had no bedsheets, and shared one small bath towel, one plate, two coffee mugs and two spoons, she said. The carpets and walls were grimy. She found mouse droppings and cockroaches.

After fumigating, “it took us well over an hour cleaning up roaches,” Florez said.

James Robinson, director of the agency that resettles refugees in Bowling Green, concedes some refugees have cockroaches -- but he points out that families don’t always wrap garbage and keep food off counters. Landlords assure the agency that they spray for pests monthly, he added.

And, Robinson retorts, Florez’ allegations that families are left without basic household supplies are “totally untrue.”

The Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance Association, also known as the International Center, has resettled about 600 refugees from Myanmar in the past year. Caseworkers inspect and furnish apartments, then photograph each family with the initial food and household supplies they receive, Robinson said.

Refugees sometimes move all their beds into one room, placing box springs and mattresses directly on the floor, he said. They get rid of the bed frames, so they may throw or give away other supplies as well, he theorizes.

“They are free people,” Robinson said. “They can do what they want.”