From "The Economist" - October 2015
Lexington | A city that wants more refugees
Hardscrabble Baltimore finds that kindness brings its own rewards
IN COMMON with colleagues across the rich world, the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, worries about refugees sent to her city by federal officials - a quota that this year, for the first time, may include hundreds of Syrians. Less typically, a big anxiety for Ms Rawlings-Blake is that too few refugees will settle in her home town.
Baltimore, a once-thriving port and factory town, has lost a third of its population since 1950, dropping to about 622,000 souls. Like other north-eastern cities, it has grappled with economic decline, shrinking tax rolls and the toxic legacy of race laws which corralled black residents in districts blighted by bad schools and crime. Urban-renewal projects have brought tourists and professionals back to some districts after decades of white flight. But one of Ms Rawlings-Blake's favourite projects - to attract 10,000 new families to Baltimore - remains a far-off dream.
For more than a decade, Maryland's largest city has been used as an entry point for refugees, with federal agencies led by the State Department sending 700-800 there each recent year from such troubled places as Nepal, Iraq and Eritrea. About two-thirds moved on after a few years, guided by networks of relatives and compatriots who built lives in other places. The mayor wants more to stay put. In September she joined other mayors in commending President Barack Obama for his decision to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year (up from fewer than 2,000 this year), and urged him to accept still more. She makes clear that welcoming outsiders is more than a question of charity. Refugees are an exceptionally "resilient" bunch. "They want a better life for them and their children, and they are willing to work for it," the mayor says.
In 2014 Ms Rawlings-Blake set up a Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, with the clout to rescue incomers from bureaucratic mazes: for instance, by telling city agencies that refugees-may have good reasons to lack a birth certificate. The city offers refugees special help with job training. This year the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity paid by the government to help refugees settle in 26 American cities, launched a scheme to help clients buy homes in Baltimore.
Adote Akwei, a human-rights activist from Togo who sought asylum in 2005, was one of the IRC's first homebuyers. Mr Akwei is a human dynamo. After years driving a taxi he is writing children's books, working for a programme that teaches immigrants about recycling rubbish, and setting up a community group to improve relations between black Americans and African incomers. He has a patent pending on a new school-crossing sign (it boasts lights and a buzzer). To find his new home - which lies on a quiet street in the gritty Frankford neighbourhood - Mr Akwei took free bus tours laid on by City Hall, designed to show would-be residents overlooked corners of Baltimore. The city offered a grant towards his deposit, as it does to all qualifying incomers who promise to stay for at least five years. After Mr Akwei showed a record of saving money, the IRC, with funding from business and charitable foundations, offered a separate grant towards his transaction costs, as well as financial-literacy lessons.
In all, Mr Akwei received $16,000 to help buy his house, for which he paid $155,000. But cash is not the main lure for refugees who reach America. The great gift is the immediate right to work, followed by a legal pathway to permanent residency and eventually citizenship. Actual welfare payments are small: a single adult refugee coming to Baltimore may receive $1425 from the federal government on arrival, then short-term state benefits of $288 a month. Those benefits, which include temporary health insurance, mostly stop after eight months. Refugees are even asked to repay loans covering their travel to America.
The message is "hammered home" that refugees must find jobs and pay their bills, says Ruben Chandrasekar, head of the IRC's Baltimore office. Few need telling. Refugees "know what it is like to lose a home", so rent is the first bill they pay, he notes. They "penny pinch" to build up savings. Much talent goes to waste: refugees with advanced degrees work as car-park attendants or wheelchair-pushers at Baltimore airport. But still the city has much to offer. Houses are cheaper than in Washington, an hour to the south. Unlike many suburbs, the city offers public transport and a diverse population. Such diversity is an economic boon as well as a comfort, providing niche markets for small businesses. Baltimore is now home to Nepalese grocery shops and to a car service that takes Darfuri refugees to work.
Silencing the scaremongers
This is not to paint America as a paradise for asylum-seekers. The country has accepted just 70,000 refugees annually in recent years. To put that in perspective, 1.5m refugees may reach Germany this year. Nor is America's welcome uniform. If many Europeans fret about sharing generous welfare systems, lots of Americans fear infiltration by terrorists. Some conservative states, such as South Carolina, have seen angry public meetings about Syrian refugees in towns that have received none.
A trophy for scaremongering goes to Donald Trump, the businessman and Republican presidential candidate. If elected, he promises to expel all Syrian refugees in case Islamic extremists lurk in their midst, suggesting that asylum-seekers may be "the greatest Trojan horse of all time". In fact, refugees are screened by several intelligence and security agencies for 18 months or more. David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary who heads the IRC, jokes that securing refugee status is the most arduous route to America that does not involve swimming the Atlantic.
Baltimore and other post-industrial cities cannot absorb every would-be refugee. Yet such hardscrabble places show that welcoming outsiders is not just a question of kindness. Done right, offering a haven can be an act of enlightened self-interest.
THE SCARE IDEA IS REALLY STUPID AND SILLY; WITH SOME WHO WERE BORN IN AMERICA OR CANADA OR BRITAIN, THEY WERE RADICALIZED AT HOME…… A FACT THAT IS SHOCKINGLY EMBARRASSING FOR US. 99.9 PERCENT OR MORE OF REFUGEES ARE PEOPLE AND CHILDREN FLEEING FROM TERROR, AND DESTRUCTION; THEY WANT PEACE, A COUNTRY OF STABILITY, THEY WANT WORK AND JUST A GOOD NORMAL LIFE, THAT THEY SEE OTHERS HAVE IN THE COUNTRY THEY DESIRE TO LIVE IN - Keith Hunt