Since I started working in refugee resettlement, one of the many issues that has bothered me, is refugee travel loans. Here is a description provided by the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops (they are heavily involved in resettlement):

Refugees traveling to the United States are issued loans by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to pay for the costs of their transportation from overseas to U.S. resettlement sites and for various medical and screening costs. The funds to cover the transportation were provided to IOM by the Department of State’s Bureau for Refugee Programs.

A promissory note is signed by every refugee 18 years and over. This note confirms the refugees agreement to make regular monthly payments to the sponsoring agency – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). These payments will be used to reimburse the U.S. government for the funds it provided to IOM for refugee transportation.

This just grates on me. The vast majority of refugees arrive in the US with the clothes on their backs, and nothing else. Many come here having lost family members to conflict, disease or displacement. Some have been tortured and can barely cope. Others have spent fifteen or twenty years living in a refugee camp, without any way to develop skills or live independently. Then they arrive here, and the International Organization for Migration saddles them with a huge loan to repay (but don’t worry, it’s interest free!), which they should begin payments on within six months. What the hell?! Like refugees don’t already have enough to deal with while they are acclimating, trying to find jobs, learn English, and survive on extremely low benefits which run out rapidly!

The apparent wisdom behind this loan program, is that the repayment money allows the “U.S. government to continue assisting more refugees.” If the US government is so impoverished that the only way they can assist future refugees, is off the backs of newly arrived migrants, then something is seriously wrong with program funding.

According to the director of my resettlement agency, the default rate on these loans in very low-less than 10%. This makes sense, given that when you default, the Credit Reporting Agency is informed, and you will have a negative credit history until such time as you repay the loan. Way to make new arrivals feel welcome in America!

If anyone has an informed argument as to why refugees should be made to repay these loans, I would truly love to hear it.

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