Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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June 24, 2014

Massachusetts mayor: Stop sending my city refugees

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts mayor is calling for an end to refugee resettlement in his city, saying Somali families are putting pressure on already strained services in Springfield, a onetime industrial center where nearly a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Mayor Domenic Sarno is the latest mayor to decry refugee resettlement, joining counterparts in New Hampshire and Maine in largely rare tensions with the State Department, which helps resettle refugees in communities across America.

The mayor is drawing criticism from those who say this country has a moral obligation to help the outcast and refugees who say they're being scapegoated for problems the city faced long before their arrival.

"Why not talk about the problems in the city, why not talk about the houses that are unstable and in bad conditions, why only talk about the Somalis and Somali Bantus?" Mohammed Abdi, 72, said through an interpreter.

Sarno, leader of the state's third-largest city, first demanded last summer that the U.S. government stop sending refugees. But after recent inspections found Somali families living in overcrowded, pest-infested apartments without electricity and sometimes heat, he stepped up complaints, saying resettlement agencies are bringing in "warm-weather" refugees and dumping them into cold climates only to leave them dependent on the city.

"I have enough urban issues to deal with. Enough is enough," Sarno said in an interview. "You can't keep concentrating poverty on top of poverty."

Hard examples and evidence for the mayor's stance are scant. The problems in the Somali housing have largely been attributed to neglectful landlords. The government does not track the number of refugees who rely on social services. The refugee population in Springfield of about 1,500 — around 380 of them Somali — represents about 1 percent of the city's total of 153,000. And a 2014 report by the U.S. government found that Massachusetts ranked third in the nation for refugee employment, with 73 percent of refugees enrolled in state programs finding work.

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