While the economic downturn has affected nearly all Americans adversely, new refugees in the United States have been hit particularly hard by the financial turmoil and many are facing possible eviction on Jan. 1.
These newcomers to America, including those fleeing persecution in Iraq and Myanmar, are often times some of the first to be laid off because they are new employees, explained Larry Jones, director of the World Relief office in Idaho. Other refugees have had their hours reduced, which can be devastating when they earn just $6.15 an hour.
For those who lose their jobs, they face the additional obstacle of finding a new job, which is difficult because of their limited English and job skills on top of a shrinking job market.
“I’ve been working in the refugee community for 20 years and I’ve never seen a time like this,” said Elaine Carson, director of one of World Relief’s resettlement offices in Florida, in a report. “I fear January 1st…it is scary.”
World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian and development ministry with a long history of resettling refugees in America, warns that many of the newcomers will be unable to pay their rent come January.
“We are experiencing this in all our offices across the country as the number of jobs shrinks,” said WR president Sammy Mah. “As we talk to other resettlement organizations, their experience is the same – there simply aren’t enough jobs in the current economic climate.”
Last month, 533,000 jobs were lost and within the first two weeks of December more than 100,000 jobs were cut, according to CNNMoney. Analysts warn that December job loss could be worse than November.
In North Carolina alone, 13 refugee families – a total of 69 people affected – face eviction because they cannot pay January’s rent.
Iraqi refugee Salah Salih and his family came to America in September, but after only three months living in North Carolina, the family of six faces eviction due to their inability to pay next month’s rent.
Like many refugee families, the Salihs came to America seeking freedom and opportunity for a better life. But the economic downturn and soaring unemployment rate has dashed their hopes.
In addition to the difficult economic situation, Salah is also struggling with a serious injury he received while living in Iraq. His family was targeted by terrorists in Baghdad and gunmen had burst into his home and shot him in the head. His wife Nahlah was shot in the chest. Both were seriously injured by the incident.
Weeks after the terrifying home invasion, his eight-year-old son was killed in a hit and run attack, leaving the couple devastated. Salah believes the same terrorists were behind the death of his young son.
Now, 36-year-old Salah is awaiting surgery for his injury in North Carolina, while his wife Nahlah, 37, stays home to care for her husband and their two-year-old son.
“We’ve helped them make their money stretch over the past few months, but now we’ve reached the end of the line,” World Relief refugee case manager Cara Petty reported.
For many refugee families who arrived in the United States in September, their temporary aid expires in January, meaning they have to take full responsibility for paying their rent and living expenses. There was an influx of refugees in September.
“It’s absolutely disheartening,” said Petty. “We’re just praying that the cloud will lift.”
Similarly, another Iraqi refugee, Safaa, who was a pastor in Iraq and persecuted for his faith in Christ, says he and his wife have no idea how they will pay their January’s rent. They have lived in Florida since the summer and Safaa has been unable to find work. His wife, Elham, has a part-time job, but her income is not enough to cover their housing rent and other living expenses. Moreover, her hours recently were cut.
The couple managed to pay their December rent, but are unsure how they will pay next month.
“One couple from Myanmar was very upset … in floods of tears,” case manager Petty recalled. “An Iraqi family told me: ‘We will just have to go back to Iraq.’
“They see no hope,” she reported.
Petty also noted the refugee families are eager to work to support their families in the United States.
“They’re not leeching off the system,” she said. “They just need a hand up and then they can go on.”
But she acknowledges the job market is saturated and believes the “real hope” lies in the community coming together to help those in need.
In 2008, more than 60,000 refugees were admitted to the United States and World Relief helped resettle nearly 5,700.