World’s Refugee Orphans Seeking Homes in the US

Russell Contreras, AP, February 21, 2010

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The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has 700 refugee children in foster care, has asked states to prepare to foster more international refugee children like Majok, whose parents either have disappeared or been killed by war or natural disaster. The need is heightened by continuing armed conflicts in Africa and recent events such as the earthquake in Haiti.

The request means that Massachusetts and other states must ask more households to open up their homes for foster care or ask existing foster families to take in another refugee child at a

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Massachusetts, a state that historically has taken in one of the largest shares of the nation’s unaccompanied refugee minors, has been asked to increase its current share of 93 to 125, said Richard Chacon, director of the Office for Refugees and Immigrants in Massachusetts.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says 14 states and the District of Columbia, participate in the federal Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

It is not the only way parentless refugee children can find safe haven in the U.S. The Obama administration, for example, recently said it will allow orphaned Haitian children to enter the U.S. temporarily on an individual basis. And some groups, like the Heartland Alliance in Illinois, help unaccompanied undocumented children by providing housing and legal representation.

The U.S. program, developed in the early 1980s to help thousands of parentless children in Southeast Asia, has aided more than 13,000 refugee children fleeing war, famine and economic turmoil. It remains the most consistent source for refugee children in the U.S., with the assistance of the United Nations.

In 2008, foster homes and related facilities in the United States and 67 other countries took in 16,300 orphans, according to Tim Irwin, the spokesman for the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees. {snip}

In the U.S., states license foster homes with the help of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The federal government reimburses states for all costs of the children’s schooling, health care and related expenses.

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Cost of care for refugee minors varies, depending on need. In Massachusetts, the state Office for Refugees and Immigrants has budgeted about $3 million to serve 93 minors.

Arizona’s State Refugee Coordinator Charles Shipman said his state has been asked to increase its numbers from 43 to 63. Arizona can find those new foster homes, Shipman said, but it’s going to take some time.

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Hilliard [Sherrill Hilliard, program manager for Refugee Immigration & Assistance Program in Washington.] said her state has been asked to double up from 50 to 100 children. “We’ve already got eight more on the way,” she said.

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