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Experts Discuss Plight Today's Refugees Face

By John G. Knepper

Like previous immigrants, today's refugees come to this country to find the American dream, but first they must overcome problems such as learning English, finding jobs and fighting local prejudices, said panelists at an Institute of Politics (IOP) forum last night.

"Only one or two generations ago, our parents and grandparents went through the same struggle that refugees are facing today," said Lynn August, the Rhode Island state refugee co-ordinator.

U.S. Representative Chester Atkins (D-MA) spoke of An Wang, a refugee from Shang-Hai who founded Wang Laboratories in Atkins' home district, Lowell, as an example of how immigrants can flourish in local economies.

Atkins called the United States' response to the South East Asian refugees "a wonderful and successful story." But, he acknowledged, "this is not to say there aren't numerous tragedies."

Refugees today still face many problems in settling here.

"Refugee resettlement operates in an atmosphere of budget constraints, bureaucratic constraints and public misunderstandings," said August. Because the more assimilated public disdains new immigrants, government agencies always have a tough time helping them resettle.

"Over the years, public funds have declined dramatically," said August. In 1982, the government provided resettlement aid to refugees for up to 18 months, but by 1988, this time period had been cut to only 12 months, which, she said, is not enough time for refugees to adjust to their new homes.

Atkins called the support that rich people often express for refugees "theoretical." A "struggle" between the established residents and the refugees often takes place because of the initial economic drain refugees exert upon community educational and social resources, he said.

Also, both Atkins and Le Xuan Khoa, the president of the Indochina Action Center, said the United States has the ability to help refugees world-wide.

To find a long-term solution to the Indochinese refugee problem, the United States should promote peace and prosperity in that region, said Khoa.

But U.S. foreign policy in places such as El Salvador and Nicaragua can aggravate the refugee problem too, said Atkins. "Refugee numbers are a price of U.S. foreign policies."

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