D.C. police officials met in an extraordinary session with nearly 100 representatives of several city and private social services agencies yesterday in an effort to seek solutions to a sharp increase in the number of street robberies, shootings and disorderly conduct complaints within the city's growing refugee community.
Police Chief Maurice Turner told the gathering at the Police Training Academy that he was trying to prevent "a level of crime and disorder we do not need on top of the critical concerns this department is already facing." A number of refugees have told the department's Spanish- speaking officers that they are without food and proper housing, Turner said, and that "has been leading to some of the crimes."
"The problem is extraordinary," said Willie Vasquez, director of the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs. "I live on Columbia Road the heart of the Hispanic community here and I see men living on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, getting arrested."
Lydia Fanfan, director of the D.C. Office of Refugee Resettlement, noted that the funds her office had to help refugees find jobs and get training and English instruction have been cut this year from $610,500 to $164,000. She added that by summer about half of all refugees here will no longer be eligible for welfare or free medical care because of more restrictive federal guidelines.
Fanfan called on the private sector to play a greater role in helping the refugees. She said that the refugee population here consists chiefly of an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 Salvadorans--many here illegally--and about 400 Cubans, 1,000 Vietnamese and 1,000 Ethiopians.
After the conference, the group issued a set of recommendations, one of which called for the police department to establish a core of citizen volunteers to translate for refugees who seek police help.
The group also asked officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service who were present to place charges against employers who discriminate against refugees and pay them substandard wages.
It also agreed to ask local unions to give refugees on-the-job English language training and to compile a guide of public and private agencies that can provide emergency services for needy refugees.