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New world awaits Bantus seeking refuge in Atlanta
Atlanta Journal-Constitution ^ | Feb. 23 | Mark Bixter

Posted on 02/28/2003 6:30:35 AM PST by twas

Sometime this spring, in cities around the United States, the first of nearly 12,000 African refugees will step off airplanes and into a modern world as alien and strange as the bottom of the ocean. They will come with hopes of work, education and safety, at last, from a legacy of persecution.

They are Somali Bantus, a people devastated by massacre and rape after Somalia crumbled into civil war in 1991. Thousands left rural homes for refugee camps in Kenya. They have languished there for the last dozen years. Now the United States is opening its doors to the Bantus in one of the most ambitious and complex refugee resettlement initiatives in recent years.

The U.S. State Department says it has approved plans to resettle the Bantus in 31 states, including Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Refugee resettlement agencies expect to shepherd up to 635 Bantus in the next two years into apartments in Clarkston, Decatur and Stone Mountain.

That will make metro Atlanta one of the top destinations for Somali Bantus, along with Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, the State Department said.

A cultural challenge

They will come in need of more help than most refugees. Few speak English. Many cannot read or write even in their native language. Only in the last few months have most seen telephones, flush toilets and clocks, in classes on American culture at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, on the sweltering plain of northwest Kenya. Some saw a bathtub for the first time and asked whether it was some sort of boat, said Sasha Chanoff, who coordinates the classes for the International Organization for Migration.

"They really don't have any exposure to modern development," he said.

The Bantus are descended from natives of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania who were enslaved and taken to Somalia in the 1800s. They eventually won freedom but remained frequent victims of discrimination. They performed menial jobs and lacked political power and access to education. The Bantus also lacked clan affiliation, which made them easy prey for all sides in Somalia's civil war.

The Mushunguli

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sought to resettle the Bantus in one of their ancestral homes, Mozambique, but that plan fell through in 1997. Two years later, the State Department recognized the Bantus as a group eligible for resettlement on humanitarian grounds.

The Somali Bantus will follow 807,000 refugees admitted to the United States in the last 10 years, but they come at a time of increased scrutiny. The United States suspended its refugee program for two months after Sept. 11, 2001. Resettlements resumed with security measures that slowed the flow. Only 27,000 of 70,000 refugees approved to enter in the United States actually came last year, the lowest number since 1980.

There are various groups of Bantus, but the ones coming to the United States are those who volunteered to go to Mozambique in 1997. Nearly all belong to a Bantu branch called the Mushunguli. They were subsistence farmers who shunned society. Other Somalis sometimes refer to them with derogatory terms such as jareer, which refers to the characteristic kinky hair of Bantus, gosha, a Somali term for "forest dweller" and adoon, which means "slave."

That puts resettlement agencies in a tricky spot. They need Somali-speaking caseworkers but must find staffers able to give even-handed treatment. Agencies also know that most Bantus have led such an isolated existence that "when asked where they entered Kenya," the International Organization for Migration says, "many Somali Bantus responded, 'At the tall metal,' indicating metal telephone towers" at a border town.

"Do not assume they can open a door just because it has a doorknob," Chanoff said.

No concept of time

Like people of several other cultures, the Bantus do not share the American preoccupation with time. They often date important events such as a birth by referring to some natural phenomenon that occurred at that time. "Where does one begin with people who have never held a pen or read a sign, who have no support network . . . and have no previous information about life in the United States?" Chanoff wrote in a November issue of Refugee Reports, a newsletter published by Immigration and Refugee Services of America.

"How does one begin to teach the relevance of time and dates and schedules? What about sensitizing people to the nuances of shopping and cooking and eating, when they won't recognize food in the supermarkets? How does one prevent children from sticking a finger into an electric socket or garbage disposal, falling down stairs, scalding themselves with a faucet or straying into the road?"

Resettlement agencies say the Bantus are unlikely to absorb all the lessons they receive in 10-day sessions at Kakuma that also cover U.S. laws, employment, housing and budgets. They envision months of orientation once the refugees arrive in America.

"It's going to take a lot of repetition, a lot of times of saying, 'Don't touch the hot stove. Don't touch the hot stove,' " said Mondie Blalock Tharp of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta. Many resettlement agencies are looking for additional funding to extend the four months' assistance refugees typically receive, said Christine Petrie, national resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee.

In Atlanta, four resettlement agencies are talking about applying for grants that would pay for intensive English classes, day care and instruction in riding MARTA and using kitchen appliances.

About 4,000 Somalis have been resettled in Georgia since 1992, mostly in Clarkston. About 1,000 left for Lewiston, Maine, in search of better schools, less crime and more generous housing subsidies and welfare benefits.

Among the Somalis still in Atlanta are about 120 Bantus. They form one of the largest Bantu communities in the country, said Abdullahi Abdullahi, a Somali Bantu and executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Organization in Clarkston.

43 cities make room

The State Department said it plans to resettle Bantus in 43 cities, including Atlanta.

At least one city opposed plans to accept Bantus. The City Council in Holyoke, Mass., voted in October to reject nearly $1 million in federal money for a "newcomer center." The city said it lacked money --- even with the grant --- to house and educate the refugees. The vote was largely symbolic because cities don't control federal money and can't legally prevent people from moving in.

Since 1980, 48,000 refugees have been resettled in Georgia from countries as varied as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Vietnam. Few faced challenges similar to those facing the Bantus, but experts draw parallels with two groups.

Several thousand Hmong refugees from Laos resettled in this country in the '70s and '80s with as little understanding of the modern world as the Bantus. Like the Bantus, the Hmong spoke little English, lacked formal education and knew little of Western culture. Both have views of health care at odds with Western medicine.

Some of the resettled Hmong retained their native language and religion and have limited contact with native-born Americans. Others converted to Christianity and blended into the mainstream, said Deborah Duchon, an anthropologist at Georgia State University.

'Massive hurdles'

The 12,000 Bantus also invite comparison to 3,800 Sudanese refugees who were resettled around the United States in 2000 and 2001.

Like the Bantus, these men in their late teens and early 20s, known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, grew up without exposure to modern life. Yet even the Lost Boys had a leg up on the Bantus: Most knew of a developed world beyond the horizon, having caught glimpses of it on TV during eight years in a refugee camp.

"We knew a lot of things in theory, but not in practice" is how one Lost Boy in Atlanta, Peter Anyang, put it. Most Bantus first learned of gas ovens and electric stoves in classes after 11,800 of them were moved to Kakuma from the Dadaab Refugee Camp, near Somalia's border.

"All of us realize that it's going to take a Herculean effort to go far beyond what we normally do," said Barbara Cocchi, Atlanta director for World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency. "We realize the massive hurdles that they're going to have to overcome."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bantus; diversity; multiculturalism
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There are so many things one can say.

More employment for social workers and demand for more money to solve problems that could have been avoided in the first place had not this experiement in social engineering been allowed to move forward.

Why are these people being brought to a country that is hopelessly "racist"? Do they want to experience the pain of "institutional racism"?

The south sure is a different place.

1 posted on 02/28/2003 6:30:36 AM PST by twas
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To: twas
I have great sympathy and concern for these poor people. However, I don't understand this maneuver. I am really progressing to 'isolationist' thinking. No matter what humanitarian efforts we make, and we do this over and over...we are vilified by the world. I think that that $15 billion for African AIDS would be best reduced and some of it sent to Afghanistan and post Iraq.
2 posted on 02/28/2003 6:48:07 AM PST by Dudoight
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To: twas
This country is doomed.
3 posted on 02/28/2003 6:48:49 AM PST by hang 'em
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To: twas
Why not find them a place elsewhere in Africa, where other Bantu already live? That would have been better for both the Bantu and the US.
4 posted on 02/28/2003 6:59:14 AM PST by expatpat
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To: twas
Well, thank goodness that were taking in these illiterate Bantus that will add SO much to our society.  You wouldn't want to welcome the displaced White Rhodesian farmers or anything.  That wouldn't promote our greatest goal- Balkanization- er, Diversity.


Owl_Eagle

”Guns Before Butter.”

5 posted on 02/28/2003 7:15:49 AM PST by South Hawthorne
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To: twas
Here's what I wrote to my Congressman (Roscoe Bartlett, R-MD):

Congressman,

Here is a link to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the resettlement of 12,000 Bantus from Somalia in the United States.

http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/epaper/editions/sunday/news_e3853704d0f5314400f7.html

Why do we persist in importing difficult to assimilate people into our increasingly overcrowded country? It's time to re-visit our immigration policies and say "Whoa!" for a decade or two so that we can digest those who have immigrated here over the past four decades. I would think with a Republican Congress and a Republican President, we should be able to make some headway on this issue. On the other hand, our allegedly conservative President wants to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.

If Republicans are going to sit on their hands on this issue (Immigration Reform), maybe I'll have to start "wasting" my vote on third party candidates in upcoming elections.
6 posted on 02/28/2003 7:25:52 AM PST by jaime1959
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To: Owl_Eagle
Absolutely-frappin'-amazin'. This is an idea only an intellectual could conceive.

Of course, ATL is a good city for them, much like their native habitat.

A jungle.

7 posted on 02/28/2003 7:56:05 AM PST by banjo joe
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To: twas
I'm a Swede and don't have (and shouldn't) any say on whether or not the United States should accept taking these poor people. That said, they deserve a chance wherever they end up. If, and only if, they are given proper language training and help to seek out jobs (not government-created jobs of course), they would probably become very hard-working members of any society. I've seen these two critical tasks done both well and disgracefully wrong in the communities I've lived in. Where it's been done well, the "new Swedes" have integrated well and really helped give a boost to local economy and life. The opposite is true where people have failed these two tasks.
8 posted on 02/28/2003 8:35:58 AM PST by anguish (while science catches up.... mysticism!)
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To: anguish
"Do not assume they can open a door just because it has a doorknob," Chanoff said.

How about you take 'em?

9 posted on 02/28/2003 8:55:12 AM PST by johniegrad
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To: twas
The south sure is a different place.

This is a State Dept. program, with Atlanta only being the first of 43 U.S. cities accepting these refugees. What does the "South" have to do with any of this?

10 posted on 02/28/2003 8:56:56 AM PST by Trailerpark Badass
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To: twas
The south sure is a different place.

This is a State Dept. program, with Atlanta only being the first of 43 U.S. cities accepting these refugees. What does the "South" have to do with any of this?

11 posted on 02/28/2003 8:57:25 AM PST by Trailerpark Badass
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To: twas
So racist that African immigrants do better than native blacks.

These people will probably be wealthier in 3 years (per capita) than Amercian blacks who live in the Atlanta city limits.
12 posted on 02/28/2003 8:57:51 AM PST by Guillermo (Allergic to Cats)
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To: banjo joe
>>Of course, ATL is a good city for them, much like their native habitat.

A jungle.<<


Just what we need. More people to add to the traffic mess.
13 posted on 02/28/2003 9:02:01 AM PST by Ole Okie ( ON)
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To: Guillermo
"These people will probably be wealthier in 3 years (per capita) than Amercian blacks who live in the Atlanta city limits."

I've read articles about the immigrant blacks making a big effort to keep their kids away from the native blacks. They don't want them polluted by the black inner-city culture. Also, immigrant blacks in NY city have a higher average income than the average of the whites.

14 posted on 02/28/2003 9:06:35 AM PST by blam
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To: twas
The PC liberals are going to destroy this country and we are out of our minds to permit it.
15 posted on 02/28/2003 9:13:35 AM PST by vishnu2
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To: Guillermo
I saw this on a news show (20/20 type) and one that moved to Kansas was already in medical school. But you should have seen him driving! lol
16 posted on 02/28/2003 9:14:31 AM PST by eyespysomething (If you're runnin' down my country, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me)
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To: blam
I don't blame them from keeping their kids away from American Culture.

I would suspect that many of these people do not have an attitude of entitlement and don't believe the lie that they cannot exist in the most racist, oppressive society on earth (the USA).
17 posted on 02/28/2003 9:21:34 AM PST by Guillermo (Allergic to Cats)
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To: twas
Send them to Maine. Those people love the ones they already have. Also it is keeping many people employed running welfare offices.
18 posted on 02/28/2003 9:35:06 AM PST by cynicom
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To: cynicom
"Send them to Maine. Those people love the ones they already have. Also it is keeping many people employed running welfare offices."

Aaahhh. It's just a ploy to get more federal dollars into the state, don't ya think?

19 posted on 02/28/2003 11:42:51 AM PST by blam
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To: blam

I read the comments by all of you and as a Southerner, native Texan, I have seen the frustration you and other southerners have with foreigners "using up" our tax dollars, taking our jobs and causing heart attacks left and right. Why should we let these people come here?

Perhaps because the U.S. is a country that will not stand aside and watch a human being starve. The Bantus coming to America are the precious few who survived famine, rape, massacre and plague. If these people do not deserve a safe haven, who in the world does?
Would any of you deny your sister, or mother a place to live if she had been repeatedly raped in her home town, and would go on being raped if she stayed there?
The Bantu's from Somalia will stay if they die. We are saving people by allowing them to live in our country.

If we are to deny a Bantu safe haven, we are to sentence him to death.
We cannot hate someone we do not know. You and I know very little about each other. I would not deny you food or safety and I would not kill you even though I disagree with you. By judging the Bantu whom you have not met and do not know is ignorant.
We cannot judge someone until we have educated ourselves about them. These people will live longer than any of you, they can cope better with rigorous life circumstances than any of you, they will not die alone, or of diabetes, stroke and cardiac arrest like many of you. They will not over spend or over eat or be put in prison. They will not waste resources or judge you for your obesity and slothful nature. They are grateful to us and can teach us how to live our lives better and longer. They are smart enough to excel in a foreign, hostile, modernized country. None of us would survive if we were dropped in Somalia. These people are survivors and pose no threat to us. We would do well to learn from them.
Every educated, well read, well traveled or compassionate person will see that this is not a matter of resources lost to accept the Bantus, it is a matter of wisdom gained.

Do some research on these people, if you are not afraid to understand them.


20 posted on 10/08/2004 5:11:18 PM PDT by iamnotlikeyou (Those damn Bantus and their resilience)
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