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Somali refugees strain US town's resources: mayor

SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts--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 U.S. mayor to decry refugee resettlement, joining counterparts in New Hampshire in 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.

Madino Idoor, a 35-year-old Somali with seven children, spent 12 years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. in 2004. She works two jobs — one at Goodwill at Springfield and another as a dishwasher at the Barnes Air National Guard Base.

“I can work hard and provide for my family,” Idoor said. “I do not need for the mayor to worry about me.”

She and others wonder why the mayor is targeting an already vulnerable population, an idea reiterated Friday in an editorial in the Boston Globe newspaper.

“While Sarno raises valid points about needing adequate resources to accommodate newcomers, his stance is far too rigid and ignores both the moral imperative to help refugees and the benefits those refugees can bring,” the editorial read.

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Somali refugees, from left, Sahra Mahamud, Nateha Kabir, Abdi Kadir Hussein, Khadijo Monangrawa and Fatumo Mohamed eat their lunch, sharing traditional Somalian food under a produce shelter as a steady rain falls at Red Fire Farm in Montague, Massachusetts on June 13. Red Fire Farm employs a group of Springfield's Somali refugee population as farm hands.

(AP)

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