Local groups aim to ease Pacific Islander alienation through cultural identity

Story by ADAM FONDREN

Kautoke Tangitau, 30, was shot to death at Club Suede in Kimball Junction near Park City, Utah, on Oct. 14, 2003.

The Deseret News reported on Oct. 16, 2003, that the club, now closed, was hosting the reggae performer Lucky Dube when a fight broke out and Tangitau was assaulted and shot in the chest. Police and paramedics were called but were unable to resuscitate Tangitau. He died shortly after.

The Deseret News also described how Tangitau had a bench warrant for his arrest at the time of his death for failing to appear in court after being arrested and posting bail in July 2002. Charges included: purchase/possession of a dangerous weapon, obstruction of justice, assault on a police officer and carrying a concealed/dangerous weapon.

At the time of the murder, the then Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds stated to the Deseret News that he defined the shooting as a gang shooting involving Polynesian gangs.

Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu, Tangitau’s girlfriend at the time, disputes this claim. She said in a phone interview that the fight was “just a bunch of boys” who jumped him and not a larger example of Pacific Islander gang violence as portrayed in the media. She said the only people in their party at the club were Tangitau, Taumoepeau-Latu and her sister, not an entire gang.

KSL reported on Oct. 13, 2003, that two men, Telefoni Palu and Viliamie Tukafu, were arrested in connection with Tangitau’s murder. At the time, neither was suspected of being the shooter nor was either charged with the murder.

KSL reported on March 10, 2009, that Finau Tukuafu was arrested and charged with the murder. Tukuafu pleaded guilty to third-degree felony homicide of Tangitau and was sentenced to five years in prison. Unable to find witnesses willing to testify against him, prosecutors were unable to convict Tangitau of first-degree murder. As a result, he served his five-year sentence and was released in January 2009. Tangitau is now a free man. His whereabouts are unknown.

“We’ve lost the duty to each other,” Taumoepeau-Latu said, referring to the way in which the Pacific Islander community has lost its way and forgotten its past on the mainland. According to Taumoepeau-Latu, who now lives in Tonga, this loss is due to two main factors: the lack of interaction within the community, and the desire to assimilate into the predominant culture after immigration caused a loss of traditional Pacific Islander cultural ways.

Concerning the participation of young Pacific Islanders in gangs Taumoepeau-Latu said, “They don’t have a sense of who they really are as Pacific Islanders, they don’t know what their responsibilities are to each other.” She continued, “If they did then I guarantee they wouldn’t fight amongst each other.”

Taumoepeau-Latu felt abandoned by her Pacific Islander community when this was all happening. She felt that not only was the portrayal of the Pacific Islander community in the media biased against her, but that her own community was biased and unhelpful toward her.

“This experience taught me a lot about what we’re working against, the disadvantage for the Pacific Islander youth,” Taumoepeau-Latu said when asked about what she felt what were the problems that led to Tangitau’s murder.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou said images of the athlete or the gangster are the primary examples provided to young men of Pacific Islander heritage here in the mainland. Feltch-Malohifo’ou is the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), a community outreach program aimed at the Pacific Islander community that provides opportunities for advancement they might not otherwise have. These include business opportunities, opportunities to explore their heritage, to express themselves through art, dance and the spoken word and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to be surrounded by people of their own community.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou, her organization and its constituent entities have undertaken a concerted effort to reach disenfranchised Pacific Islanders. They have developed programs such as Pasifika Enriching Art of Utah (PEAU), headed by Bill Louis, that uses art to reach out, teach cultural history and provide outlets to the Pacific Islander youth of Utah. Another organization, Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA Talks), headed by Simi Poteki, uses roundtable discussion among Pacific Islander men to address the issue of domestic violence.

Lastly an event hosted by PIK2AR that specifically addresses the Pacific Islander youth is the People of the Pacific Conference, held on Feb. 22, 2018, at Utah Valley University (UVU). The conference is aimed specifically at Utah high schoolers of Pacific Island heritage with the aim of exposing them to aspects of their cultural heritage. This exposure is done with art, dance, talks and lessons. Most importantly — and in keeping with the general purpose of PIK2AR —  the event gives them a community to belong to and a sense of what it is to be of Pacific Islander heritage.

Through the efforts of PIK2AR, PEAU and KAVA Talks, the feelings of disenfranchisement that some Pacific Islanders experience in society and within their own community will hopefully be reduced. These groups aim to connect their cultural history and possible futures by giving them an inclusive community to exist within.

Post-incarceration life for the Pacific Islander community in Salt Lake City

Story and infographic by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

According to the Utah Department of Corrections statistics, Pacific Islanders make up 3 out of every 100 inmates in their population.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), said, “Pacific Islanders are 1 percent of the general population in Utah, 4 percent of the prison population, and it’s not getting any better.”

The question arises, what resources are there for those leaving the prison system and what can society do to give former inmates a second chance?

“The color of your skin makes a huge difference. I’m not being racist, I’m speaking from experience,” said Randy Tinoga, 46, in a phone interview about life after prison.

Tinoga came from Hawaii to Utah in 1999. He moved to get away from a meth addiction. In 2002 Tinoga relapsed and went through multiple drug rehabilitation facilities across Salt Lake City. Odyssey House was his last inpatient residential program, and soon after leaving, he began using again in a much bigger manner.

Tinoga received charges in 2005 and was sent to federal prison January 2006 and released in April 2011. Tinoga was put on probation through the federal system until 2014. After getting in trouble, Tinoga has stayed in Utah and has not returned to Hawaii.

When inmates are released they are required to spend six months in a federal halfway house. During that time period, they have to find employment and then they’re expected to contribute back to society.

“The resources are out there, people are afraid to take a chance on a federal felon,” Tinoga said about his post-incarceration life.

“Every person in federal prison feels like you’re starting one to two laps behind everyone else,” Tinoga said. “If you’re a Polynesian convicted felon, you feel like you’re five steps behind everyone else.” These statements speak to what the prison system does to those who go through it and the impact the system has on minorities.

Tinoga said the most important thing needed outside of prison is a telephone and family. “Without a family, you’re playing catch up,” Tinoga said. “Most Polynesians incarcerated come from strong families. They do have a strong support system.”

The concept of family is a significant aspect of Pacific Islander culture. “The collectivist perspective is very important to the Pacific Islander community,” said Oreta M. Tupola, community health worker section coordinator with the Utah Public Health Association.

Tinoga is living in Salt Lake County and involved with PIK2AR’s Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA) talks, a Pacific Islander male domestic violence advocacy group. “My transition back to public life was easier on my part,” Tinoga said. “If you want to make a change, you have to take a chance! If someone is willing to take a chance on a Polynesian American, take a chance on them.”

Pauliasitolo Vainuku, 39, describes his life after leaving prison. Vainuku went to federal prison for a bank robbery. He was released from prison and had his probation terminated in January 2018.

“A lot of things in our culture, we don’t like to talk about,” Vainuku said in a phone interview. “Abuse is there and it’s not talked about. That’s how a lot of Pacific Islanders join a gang because there’s a cultural understanding there for them.”

Tupola said, “Family is important in Pacific Islander culture. Gangs are from a loss of that identity and trying to look for it again.”

This is where groups like PIK2AR’s KAVA talks come in. They can help those who are struggling with abuse.

Vainuku’s brother, who was involved in a gang, was killed when Vainuku was 12. “After his death I was depressed. I had nobody to talk to,” he said.

Vainuku then turned to robbing at the age of 12. “When you’re depressed you don’t care,” he said. “Certain things you do make you feel alive,” he said, describing how his robbing began.”If you keep doing the same things it becomes normal.”

A couple of months after turning 18, Vainuku was sent to federal prison. “For me it was actually getting away. Getting locked up made me able to escape reality,” he said.

Vainuku said after getting out of prison, there were resources available to him. “There’s a second chance bill that lets small businesses hire us and they bond them for hiring us.” The Second Chance Act of 2007 “was enacted to break the cycle of criminal recidivism; improve public safety; and help state, local, and tribal government agencies and community organizations respond to the rising populations of formerly incarcerated people who return to their communities.”

The bill gives the small business a bond that provides insurance in case a former inmate ends up robbing or doing damage to the business as well as a tax break for the business. Bills like this give former inmates of the federal prison system a second chance.

Vainuku spent six months in a federal halfway house while he worked and saved money to live independently. “The federal halfway house makes you actively look for employment,” Vainuku said.

These programs help federal prisoners when they adjust on the outside, but Utah State prisoners don’t receive many of these resources, according to Vainuku.

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, mental health resources are offered at Utah State Prison for prisoners within the system. “We’re coming out and not getting the help and support with mental health,” Vainuku said. “For the guys in prison, they need to get help in prison and get ready to come out.”

A May 2017 article in the Deseret News backs up what Vainuku said. Many of those in the Utah corrections system are not receiving appropriate care when they leave prison.

Vainuku said the state of Utah could do more to help inmates coming out. “In the state prison, they’re stuck in a cell with their cellie and get a packet. They’re not getting classes or help for life on the outside.” According to Vainuku, this packet is the only resource that state prisoners in Utah receive prior to being discharged.

Racial prejudice within jail is also a factor that makes it difficult for inmates. “Prison is a negative setting, the guards tend to get stuck in a negative mindset with an us versus them mentality,” Vainuku said. “The guards build a prejudice and they do things that upset the prisoners more.”

Tinoga said, “Stereotypes are bad all the way around. A good number of Polynesian men are first-time offenders.” Stereotypes of Pacific Islander men being pushed by society at large creates very negative environments that can hinder the lives of many of these men.

It’s important for society to look beyond stereotypes and give former inmates a second chance. “Just giving someone the opportunity helps,” Vainuku said. “Look at the individual instead.”

Many of these changes that society needs start at a community level. Challenge stereotypes, give individuals a second chance. Community-driven resources are also important.

In a 2016 Seattle Times article, Sarah Stuteville talks about the Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (F.I.G.H.T), a group of former Pacific Islander and Asian inmates who work to provide resources to those leaving the Washington State penal system. The Utah Department of Corrections does offer programs to inmates, however, nothing specifically like the F.I.G.H.T group offered in Washington state.

 

Why mental health services fail Pacific Islanders

Story and photo by ANTHONY SCOMA

You are in a foreign country and you need help with an urgent problem. You may seek help but the stark differences in language, customs and values renders any assistance frustrating and ultimately useless.

That is the reality for many Pacific Islanders seeking mental health services in Utah.

The disconnect between Pacific Islanders and mental health services starts at the fundamental contrast between western culture and Pacific Islander culture. Oreta Tupola, a community health worker coordinator at Utah Public Health Association, said, “The differences in our culture is that individualistic perspective and [the] collectivist perspective.” She continued, “That community and family perspective is everything we’re about, and you can understand … all these issues that we’re facing. It surrounds how it impacts the family and how it impacts my family name and my lineage and my genealogy.”

The conception of the self and its relation to the world outside the self is important to mental health and informs how one deals with conflict. In a collective perspective, several sources said, the actions of the individual reflect the family or group as a whole. This is particularly important for immigrants from the Pacific Islands whose view of family connection extends far beyond the nuclear norm in the U.S.

Within this framework, the accountability to the family makes shame a powerful tool for social control. Lani Taholo, director and owner of Child and Family Empowerment Services, said in a phone interview that these feelings of shame also work as a deterrent to seeking mental health services.

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Lani Taholo in her Child and Family Empowerment Services office in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

“When it comes to shame, if we’ve done something wrong to lose face in our community it’s a big deal because we don’t want to bring shame to our family or our family name,” she said. “Then the poor family starts to feel judged and can easily feel … shamed by that so that just pushes it down further — to repress it and suppress it — and unless they have services that they can relate to they just don’t go.”

Taholo is currently working on her Ph.D. in Social Work at the University of Utah. Her research is on the underutilization of mental health services by Pacific Islanders and how to make those services more inclusive of their experiences and culture.

Taholo said that even when Pacific Islanders are required to use mental health services, the cultural differences are still an obstacle. In cases where violent behavior calls for intervention by mental health professionals, the established model does not seem to work for Pacific Islander participants. They either don’t attend or barely participate to avoid punishment. Taholo says that these approaches fail to relate to Pacific Islanders culture.

“There is no change, there is no healing, there is no recognition and acknowledgment of what’s really happening because it’s not even relatable,” she said. Taholo described instances when judges from the West Valley Justice Court called her to help out in cases involving Pacific Islanders because of their shared culture. “They already know they aren’t going to finish the other program,” she said.

The contrasting cultural perspectives also have consequences for communicating thoughts and feelings across generational divides in Pacific Islander communities. In the cases of first-generation immigrants, there is a separation of experience between those raised on the islands and those raised in the U.S.

Those experiences also represent a clash in cultural ideology for the new Americanized generation. They learn a collective perspective from their families, while school and peer interactions instill a more individualistic mentality.

Fisi Moleni, a licensed clinical therapist in Salt Lake City, said in a phone interview that the move to America introduced a lot of mental health issues that were not as prevalent in the islands.

“In that transition to America, the complexity of living here and all the different stimulus and exposure to society … it seems to have been quite a challenge,” he said. “The Polynesian parents, the Pacific Island parents, are trying to utilize to some degree their old methods of parenting, of conditioning … the core values of respect and loyalty and all those things.”

Moleni also links this change in geography and culture to the rise in various forms of addiction and has observed a disconnect between the first generation of immigrant parents and their American-raised children.

“Children are … leaving the home and being influenced by so many other entities that when it comes time to connect, there is a disconnect,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable … communicating with parents and expressing difficulty with certain challenges at school, with friends, with … the more extreme addictive behavior.”

While this disconnect might lead to children being influenced more by friends and cultural norms, Moleni also acknowledged the potential of the Pacific Islander family to achieve positive mental health. When parents have the tools to communicate and connect with their children, the loyalty to name and family creates a robust, adaptable social network.

“Our people were the greatest navigators, the greatest seafarers that history … has seen,” Moleni said. “They adapted, they were able to use their navigational skills to extend themselves to other islands and to survive and began to thrive. … I thoroughly believe that we can adapt even here and not just survive but thrive within this society.”

No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility

Story by KAYA DANAE

Photos by MBAZIRA MOSES and KAYA DANAE

Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at cansizog@unhcr.org and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.

 

 

 

 

 

Social media fundraising for refugees: A dream nightmare come true

Story and slideshow by JACE BARRACLOUGH

The creation of social media has connected people worldwide. For some, it’s a tool used to help refugees of war-torn countries. Through various organizations, a person can simply click a link that redirects them to a donation site where they can send money to provide relief to refugees struggling to survive financially, medically and educationally. But, knowing where the money is going is crucial.

Humanwire is a website geared toward assisting refugee families. It claims 100 percent of donations go to the cause. It was founded by Andrew Baron in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2015. It has marketed itself by encouraging its followers to share personal stories of their supported refugee families and donation campaigns via social media. Just like most businesses, Humanwire understands that word of mouth from those you trust bridges the gap between hesitation and execution when it comes to buying a product — or in this case, donating money.

“I was made aware of it because of another friend who posted about it on social media,” says Molly Jackson of Park City, Utah, in a phone interview. “When I saw her experience and how easy it was … [I said] I’m going to do that.”

Humanwire allows donors to choose a refugee family to support by way of social media-like profiles on its website. The amount that is donated, whether all at once or collectively, allows donors greater or lesser degrees of interaction with the family. Individuals providing smaller donations are awarded limited information about the family they have sponsored, whereas larger donations allow you to interact with them via live-stream on Skype.

Jackson says she hasn’t donated or posted about it for months. However, she receives email notifications that friends and strangers alike continue to donate to her chosen family as a result of her old social media posts. She’s received single donations to her Humanwire account totaling $1,000 to support her refugee family. Some are from people she doesn’t even know.

“It’s as easy as posting an Instagram post,” she says. “You just say, ‘Look at these people. They are in need. I’m the host. Here’s the link. Donate your money.’”

Trusting that their friends and loved ones are vetting the organization, it has left little thought for many to follow through with the research portion of the company before handing over their hard-earned dollars.

In the summer of 2017 it was claimed in a YouTube video, posted by Humanwire’s co-founder Andrew Baron, that the director of its “Tent to Home” program, Anna Segur, had stolen $10,000 via ATM withdrawals.

“The theft was followed by intense slander, criminal activity and harassment,” Baron says in the description portion of his video. “She caused many people to join her cause, misleading volunteers to believe that she owns and controls Tent to Home, and causing many of our staff members to quit out of pure fear for her slander.”

The other co-founder of Humanwire, Mona Ayoub, was living in Lebanon, taking care of the company’s donations, schools, students, teachers, employees, and registering refugees. In August 2017 after the funds stopped, Ayoub said via Facebook Messenger, she flew to the United States to get to the bottom of the issue. Unfortunately, she discovered Baron had mismanaged the funds and misrepresented the way they were being used. She said Baron claimed the money had gone toward operating costs even though Humanwire had promised all donated funds would go to the refugees.

In September 2017, Baron later admitted to the Denver Post to have taken as much as $80,000 over the last two years. However, after a police investigation, it was discovered that Baron had taken over $100,000 from Humanwire and was arrested on felony charges of charity fraud and theft.

Ayoub submitted her letter of resignation on November 1, 2017.

“Had I known the extent of mismanagement and misrepresentation prior to traveling to the United States, I would have resigned immediately,” Ayoub said.

Yet more problems have surfaced since the claims against Humanwire. The organization has started to lose its partnerships with other organizations dedicated to helping refugees.

“Standing With Alana” is a group whose mission is bringing awareness and aid to the Yezidi people from Syria who are facing a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

On October 8, 2017, Standing With Alana announced via Facebook, “Standing With Alana is no longer working through Humanwire due to financial problems within the organization. We are now communicating directly through Yezidi Emergency Support (YES).”

Yezidi Emergency Support team leader Anne Norona was one of Humanwire’s contacts overseas. As Baron tried to extinguish the flames of ridicule on Humanwire’s Facebook page, Norona added more fuel by expressing her frustrations in a reply to Baron’s YouTube video, which he later shared on Humanwire’s Faceboook page.

“I asked you in JUNE to send the money when I last went to Iraq,” she says. “There are FOUR Yezidi families you owe a LOT of money to.”

With allegations publicized, both internally and from its partners, it has left donors wondering what happened with the money intended to help their refugee families.

“I did photo shoots and donated all the money I made to them,” says Terra Cooper of Syracuse, Utah. “It was a sacrifice for my family since usually that’s how I pay for our Christmas.”

Through Humanwire, donors like Cooper have their own financial account to hold money for their refugee family. Whenever the family needs certain items they can use that money to purchase them on Humanwire’s site and have it delivered by local representatives. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work?

“I’ve released money for surgeries and medical bills and they’ll send me a picture of them holding the check,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “They’ve been good at sending that kind of stuff.”

However, she says she’s noticed over the last few months things haven’t quite been the same. Cooper has had approximately $1,000 left of the $3,000 she raised in her family’s account, but she has been unable to use it.

“I’ve been trying to release that $1,000 for their rent for three or four months and it still hasn’t been released,” she says. “I have been emailing them and I haven’t heard back.”

Cooper even went as far as commenting on Humanwire’s Facebook page asking for answers, but says her post was deleted by the company. When trying to get in touch with her point of contact, she was made aware that person had left the organization.

“I’m sick about it,” she says. “I don’t care about me, though. That money was supposed to be rent money for my refugee family.”

Cooper’s love for her refugee family, with whom she has kept in contact, is what has fueled her to investigate the dealings of her funds. After all, at the end of the day it’s the refugees, not the donors, who suffer the biggest loss.

“The organization did do a lot of good in the beginning,” says Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong, a donor of Humanwire. “My guess is they expanded too fast and lost control,” She said in a phone interview.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages anyone who is thinking about donating to a charity to do research beforehand. Well-known organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are generally good options for those wanting to donate.

Humanwire was contacted for comment. An employee replied via Facebook Messenger saying the accusations were misunderstood and they still encourage people to support their organization.

“Humanwire is awesome,” a representative from Humanwire said in a Facebook message. “Please give it a try and see for yourself.”

 

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Refugee Justice League, SLCPD work to help refugees feel comfortable with justice system

Story and photos by EMILY ANDERSON

When then 17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed was shot by police in downtown Salt Lake City in 2016, a wave of shock washed over the community.

According to reports from The Salt Lake Tribune, police said Mohamed was involved in an altercation and armed with a metal broomstick. When police ordered him to drop the weapon, Mohamed appeared to attempt to hit the man he was fighting, so officers fired at him. Mohamed’s family later disputed these claims.

Hundreds mobilized in support of the Somali refugee and rallied against police brutality toward people of color. Meanwhile, many refugees living in the Salt Lake Valley were paralyzed with terror.

“Anytime there is a publicized law enforcement-refugee conflict, it reinforces the fear [of law enforcement],” said Brad Parker, one of the founders of the Refugee Justice League, in a telephone interview.

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Abdi Mohamed was shot by Salt Lake City Police at 200 S. Rio Grande St.

Refugees frequently have negative memories of police in their home countries, according to Natalie El-Deiry, the deputy director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) — one of the agencies that resettles refugees in Salt Lake City. Along with the military, law enforcement is commonly used to silence those who speak out against an oppressive government.

“One thing that is often the case with people who have fled persecution from another country is that they often didn’t have the protection of law enforcement when they fled,” El-Deiry said in a telephone interview. “So when people first arrive, there is definitely a skepticism or uncertainty around whether law enforcement is really there to protect you.”

Police officers frequently participate in behaviors considered war crimes by international organizations like Human Rights Watch. For example, Kenyan police officers repeatedly target Somali refugees with rape, arbitrary arrests and unlawful deportations.

Jodi Larson-Farrow of the Boise Agency for New Americans, which helps resettle refugees in Boise, Idaho, has interviewed recent refugees about their feelings toward police. Her research was included in a report on law enforcement relations with refugees released by the Police Executive Research Forum in May 2017. The words and phrases refugees most commonly associate with police, she found, are “fear, rapist, power, corruption, intimidation, no trust, they will beat you, they will take your life and run from them.”

“In addition to the language and cultural barriers that separate refugees and police in many U.S. localities, there is a deeper source of distrust that can hamper engagement from the outset,” read the report. “To fully understand the barriers that may stand in the way of building trust, U.S. police must be educated about the historical experiences of refugee communities with their native police forces.”

Refugees’ understanding of the U.S. justice system also tends to be influenced by the way criminal cases are handled in their country of origin. The Police Executive Research Forum’s report said that refugees’ home countries generally convict people of crimes more quickly than in the U.S. These experiences, the forum believes, led to confusion after Abdi Mohamed was shot.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department [SLCPD] discovered in the aftermath of a police-involved shooting of a refugee that members of the refugee community assumed there would be no consequences for the officer, simply because the investigation was still pending and they had not been aware of the process,” the report said. “As a result of this incident, the department recognized the need to expand their educational efforts to avoid confusion surrounding such issues in the future.”

After Abdi Mohamed was shot, SLCPD held town halls to assuage the fears of the refugee community and hosted Citizens Academy, which allows refugees and other Salt Lake City residents to learn how the department functions. SLCPD also has a refugee liaison, Detective Robert Ungricht, who attends community events in an effort to get to know refugees.

Ungricht said in a telephone interview that the department is working to bring refugees onto the force, but are running into problems because many refugees aren’t citizens. This is an issue that the Utah State Legislature, or even Congress, he said, would have to address.

“We’re trying our hardest,” Ungricht said. “We get told a lot that the refugee community sees that we’re really doing a lot more than some agencies. I’m happy to hear that they’re happy that we’re trying to fight for them and fight for their rights and give them these opportunities.”

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building houses the Salt Lake City Police Department’s refugee liaison and Citizens Academy.

SLCPD attends orientation sessions given by the International Rescue Committee for newly-arrived refugees. Natalie El-Deiry said the police department has become an advocate for refugees who are feeling unsafe in the community.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I think [SLCPD] is doing a really great job,” El-Deiry said.

However, Brad Parker feels refugees in the Salt Lake Valley still struggle to rely on law enforcement. His group, the Refugee Justice League — a coalition of lawyers formed to defend refugees’ rights — is now trying to bridge that gap.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department has done a great job in an outreach effort to build trust with refugees,” Parker said. “The fear is just deep-seated enough that it hasn’t completely worked.”

The league was formed after President Donald Trump was elected, as some refugees faced harassment and were concerned about the prospect of Trump following through with threats to build a Muslim registry. Attorneys who have since joined the organization wanted to help represent refugees who feel they are being discriminated against or are in trouble. All lawyers working with the league do so pro bono.

If a refugee is at the police station, Parker said, an attorney will go meet with the refugee. The attorney will communicate that everything the refugee says is confidential and that the attorney’s priority is to help. If the refugee has been accused of a crime, the Refugee Justice League will then secure a criminal attorney. If needed, the representative will help the refugee communicate with police.

“In those cases, it’s a win-win. It’s a win for refugees, and it’s a win for law enforcement,” Parker said.

To help refugees navigate encounters with the police, the Refugee Justice League has distributed personalized cards. Each card includes the refugee’s name, photo and preferred language. It says that the cardholder is represented by an attorney from the Refugee Justice League and gives the refugee instructions on how to comply with law enforcement while protecting the person’s rights.

“We did the cards to help the refugees become more fully-engaged participants in the legal system,” Parker said. “It gives us the chance, as we assist them, to model appropriate behavior when you’re dealing with police — that is a polite, cooperative behavior in many instances.”

In order to receive the card, refugees must complete a training that instructs them on when it is appropriate to show it. The Refugee Justice League tells them not to use the cards in incidents like traffic stops or domestic disputes. Refugees are also taught how they are expected to react to police.

Parker said the organization had three goals in creating the cards — to protect refugees’ rights, to reduce fear and build trust and to enhance communication between refugees and law enforcement. Because refugees are often not yet citizens, giving police a false statement out of fear or not following instructions can result in a withdrawal of their refugee status and deportation.

“A lot of times if refugees are questioned by the police, they just clam up,” Parker said. “Sometimes they’ll pretend that they don’t understand the language — and sometimes they don’t. They’re worried that they might get in trouble for something they say, so they say nothing.”

When the card was first proposed, Ungricht worried that the cards would destroy the trust SLCPD has worked to develop with refugees.

“I was like, ‘That’s going to create some major tension,’” Ungricht said. “It’s going to knock down a lot of bridges that we’ve built in the [refugee] community.”

Since the league announced the program, they have worked with numerous groups including SLCPD, the International Rescue Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union to make changes to the card. El-Deiry said that through these conversations, the cards can accommodate all parties.

“I think that there is potential for [the cards] to be helpful,” said El-Deiry. “I think that there are some concerns around the Justice League actually working with law enforcement themselves to make sure that there is a unified voice around that, and those are some discussions that we’ve had and they’re ongoing.”

The Refugee Justice League believes that through the combined effort of SLCPD and attorneys, refugees will feel safer in the Salt Lake Valley. As a result, the league hopes refugees will be more cooperative and further integrated into the justice system and society.

But first, Parker said, law enforcement must continue to build relationships with refugees on an individual level.

“A lot of them are scared of talking to the police,” Parker said. “These psychological scars that they have aren’t just easily set aside. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry anymore, now the police are your friends.’ You can preach that all you want, but until they’ve had an experience that helps them realize that, there’s sort of this deep-seated fear that comes from their past.”

Read a related story about the Refugee Justice League.

Ukrainians flee the iron fist

Story and photo by JACE BARRACLOUGH

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia”

 

Protesters rally in the Maidan. Photo courtesy of Art Ira via Facebook.

The winter of 2013-14 changed the lives of Ukrainians forever. Thousands were displaced and forced to find shelter in either refugee camps located in more peaceful areas of Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

This happened when former Ukrainian President Yanukovych decided to back out of joining the European Union (EU), which would have allowed better trade with European countries and a step toward westernization.

Instead, Yanukovych rejoined with Russia. In the bitter cold, citizens took to the streets to protest the decision and demand the impeachment of their president.

Thousands of protesters filled the town square in Kiev, also known as the Maidan. Not even the Berkut (riot police) could force them out. A civil war erupted between the Berkut and protesters. It was then that President Yanukovych fled to Russia and gave the Russian military permission to take control of the situation.

As bombs shook some homes and demolished others, thousands of Ukrainians fled, only taking what they could fit inside the suitcases they would be carting around for months, potentially years.

According to the United Nations, there are over 2 million Ukrainians displaced and another 300,000 seeking asylum in neighboring countries.

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services, says that refugee camps are crowded and some of the tents may be filled to capacity, forcing people to make their own shelter using other resources.

Batar says one can receive refugee status for various reasons, but in the case of Alex Evgeniya — it was his political affiliation.

“We are refugees from Ukraine, but our status is still pending,” Alexey Evgeniya says.

Evgeniya and his wife are from Crimea, a peninsula that was part of Ukraine until Russia invaded in February 2014. Russia then decided to annex the peninsula making it its own.

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia,” he says.

Along with their escape comes anonymity. They, as well as many other Ukrainian refugees, are reluctant to divulge information in fear of Russian intelligence intercepting any and all channels of communication, thus putting their own lives in danger.

Ukraine is no stranger to conflict. Ukraine fought for Germany in World War I. In World War II Ukrainians were divided. Some fought for Germany, others Russia and many for their own independence.

As a country pinned between the influences of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it seems they’ve battled a constant game of tug-of-war being pulled in all different directions. It wasn’t until 1991 that Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR.

However, in 1994 Ukraine signed an agreement to be protected by the Russian military. Thus, allowing Russia to once again grab hold.

“I feel that refugees [are] afraid to talk about their stories,” says Oleh Kernytsky, mission facilitator  at St. Jude Maronite Catholic Church in Murray. “It is not only for security reason[s], but they don’t want [to] go again through all troubles they had in the past.”

Kernytsky says most refugees he associates with tend to focus more on life since their resettlement and choose to leave the past where they believe it belongs — in the past.

One of Kernytsky’s congregation members was a professional bobsledder who trained for the Nagano, Japan, Winter Olympics. Though she was the superior athlete, another candidate bribed the officials and made the team instead.

She was discouraged but decided to continue training for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. This time she made the team.

It was unclear as to what the “bribe” entailed. However, it would be one of the major factors as to why she didn’t dare go back to Ukraine following the 2002 Olympics after making and competing in the bobsledding event she was denied four years prior.

Seeking asylum, she stayed in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a Ph.D. in physical therapy. She is now married with children and works as a physical therapist in Salt Lake City.

Class at the University of Utah.

It’s likely tough to imagine something good on the horizon when you are engulfed in such hostile and tense situations. But tragedy often helps one to understand and appreciate the most important things.

Aden Batar helps us to recognize most of those things aren’t necessarily tangible.

He says, “Peace is something you cannot buy.”