Posted on April 24, 2008

African Immigrants, Black Americans at Odds

Rob Johnson, Roanoke Times, April 24, 2008

The small barren courtyard that separates the apartment buildings of Dwan Dillard and Mohamed Adin in Northwest Roanoke might as well be an ocean, so deep is the dislike that the American-born black woman and the Somali Bantu refugee have of each other.

“That out there is a war zone,” said Dillard, whose four children live with her at Maple Grove Apartments, a blighted complex of four buildings with a total of 40 units on Pilot Street near Melrose Avenue. “The African children attack ours. They throw rocks.”

Adin, who lives with his wife and nine children, blames “the Americans.” Through an interpreter he said, “Day and night they throw rocks at our building. They yell at us. We are afraid. This isn’t what we came to this country for.”

Graffiti on the Maple Grove Apartments street sign read “Americans only,” and “Africans not welcome.”

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s Refugee and Immigration Services office in Roanoke has been placing families from Africa and other countries in area apartments for years, with low rents being a key factor in settling them.

Maple Grove has been a favored destination for refugees from Somalia and other African nations since 2003, said Beth Lutjen, the agency’s director. “They have become a community here,” she said, walking around the complex Monday after receiving several complaints from her clients. “But now the tensions between the Africans and the American blacks have reached a crisis point.”

Lutjen began searching for apartments elsewhere in Roanoke for the African refugees earlier this month, after Adin and other immigrants complained about the rock throwing and alleged that some of their children have been beaten by black American kids while waiting for the bus to nearby Westside Elementary School.