Unsettled

War refugees in Dallas find themselves in the crossfire of a another battle -- with the people in charge of welcoming them to America

Getting assigned free cases indeed costs local agencies more, and Refugee Services did end up with the fewest Kosovar free cases. But Corcoran denies that his agency recruited anyone. "By no means do more refugees, more sponsorships, mean more money for us," he says. "More refugees mean more headaches."

He points to the case of Shaban Murseli, who signed on to sponsor 32 Kosovar relatives, as a prime example: "I did not solicit his business. This one is a financial nightmare. We've had to spend a grand or two in long distance just to get them over here."


Peter Calvin
Anne Marie Weiss, a former Refugee Services of North Texas board member, at a news conference criticizing the treatment of Muslim refugees.
Anne Marie Weiss, a former Refugee Services of North Texas board member, at a news conference criticizing the treatment of Muslim refugees.

Murseli, of course, has wanted nothing to do with Refugee Services since May 28, when his Albanian friend took him to Weiss' house, which was cluttered with boxes of donated toys and clothes. That afternoon the three sipped Turkish coffee, discussing the news reports of Kosovars brought by Refugee Services being crammed into the too small apartments of suddenly overwhelmed relatives. With Weiss, dressed in her new Che Guevara T-shirt, typing, Murseli wrote Corcoran a brief letter, predated May 24. A fax from Weiss' house came through at the Refugee Services office late that Friday. "Please cancel the papers I filed with you," read Murseli's note. "As a result of recent publicity, I prefer to bring my relatives through another agency."

A few hours later, he was on the phone with Corcoran. "Congratulations," Corcoran said cheerfully. "You're the proud father of 24 new Americans." The first batch was set to arrive in a day or two, so it was too late to cancel the sponsorship agreement, he said. By this point Murseli knew being the sponsor meant more than hugs and translations.

The two renegotiated what Refugee Services would provide. In a heated discourse, Murseli threatened to bring his whole clan to Refugee Services' doorstep -- followed by TV news cameras -- if they didn't have a place to live. Corcoran agreed to find them three apartments and pay two months' rent. Murseli also claims Corcoran made a promise of cash: $100 each the first month, $150 each after the first 30 days. (The baby, Amerikan, didn't qualify because she was born on American soil.) But a week after the refugees' arrival in Dallas, Corcoran explained to Murseli that cash was never part of their new deal because Refugee Services was paying for the apartments.

For the Murseli 24, Church World Services sent Refugee Services $13,920 of the $17,760 in federal grant money. Two months' rent for the eight bedrooms tallied about $4,000. But Corcoran insists that this case, the agency's largest resettlement ever for a single family, is costing them much more with incidental expenses and man-hours. "Shaban did nothing to provide housing, even though he said he would. We knew he wasn't going to, so we did it for him. We've had to take them to Social Security, doctor's appointments, to get food stamps and Medicaid," says Corcoran. "The list goes on and on."

Murseli, however, says he has missed six weeks of work while helping with these errands. "What labor do they do? Because I am the sponsor, they do nothing. Zero. I have to do all the work, so where is all that money going? This is 100 percent rip-off!"

Meanwhile, Weiss continues to crusade as the voice of underassisted refugees. A week ago she held a news conference -- complete with sobbing Kosovars -- to show the public some fresh-off-the-plane refugees who had no food or furniture. These refugees came, surprisingly, via IRC. A vice president flew down from the agency's national headquarters in New York the next day. He admitted there was a problem with their work on these cases despite the fact that IRC had less than 24 hours' notice that they were coming, and promised to return this week to ensure that no other Kosovars were suffering a similarly unpleasant first few days in America.

Also last week, Murseli's eight remaining family members landed in Dallas. He had taken Weiss' advice. "Go with the Jews, Shaban," she said. "They are the best." Jewish Family Services traditionally serves only Jewish refugees. But the organization made an exception for Kosovars. Their deal included four months' rent on two furnished, bills-paid apartments plus $225 a month cash per household for four months, even after the refugees find jobs. To find jobs for his family brought through Refugee Services, Murseli went to Catholic Charities, which found them all work in a hotel. The hotel, in turn, offered free bus service for its new employees and a free night's stay for Murseli, in case he needs to get away for a bit.

After all, the business of refugee resettlement for some can be a rather unsettling experience.

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