(6-26-03) Cayce officials concerned about relocation of African refugees - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

(6-26-03) Cayce officials concerned about relocation of African refugees

(Cayce) June 26, 2003 - Controversy is brewing in the Midlands over plans to relocate some African refugees to a Midlands community beginning this summer. More than 1200 fliers have been distributed in Cayce-West Columbia saying the refugees will put a strain on the school district and other social programs and suggesting the refugees be relocated throughout the Midlands.

The federal government, in cooperation with various faith-based services, is bringing approximately 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees from camps around the Kenya-Somalia border to America where they can make a new start after centuries of war, famine and oppression.

The refugee resettlement is one of the largest in recent US history.

Lutheran Family Services is heading the effort to bring a total of about 120 refugees to Cayce. The first 40 will arrive this summer, followed by 80 more next year. Richard Robinson, coordinator of the Lutheran Family Services Refugee Resettlement Program, says the refugees are being placed in Cayce because of the low cost of apartments, low crime rate and access to public transportation.

Some Cayce residents are quite concerned about the influx of refugees, including administrators in Lexington County School District Two. Dr. Venus Holland says, "Typically they marry at a very young age. The families have a large number of children. They have not had any formal education, because the Somali Bantus were actually slaves to the Somalis, so they come to us not even knowing how to read or write in their own language."

"We're more than willing to help," she continues, "but we feel in these tight times when finances are so drastically limited and we have already slashed our budget by several million dollars and lost teachers, that this is just going to be a tremendous strain."

District Two has about 9000 students. More than 200 are enrolled in an English as a second language program, but most students are Hispanic. The district isn't entirely certain which of a number of possible languages the relocated Bantus will speak, and officials doubt they have a teacher who can speak it. According to CulturalOrientation.net , most Somali Bantus speak either Af Maay and Af Maxaa, both Cushitic languages.

There is talk that at least some of the Bantu will at the Pinewood Apartments in Cayce, but Thursday the apartment manager put a flyer on the doors saying as of now, there aren't enough vacancies.

Robinson says the refugees will attend English classes and receive cultural training. Robinson expects them to be self-sufficient within six months. He will meet with Cayce city officials Friday morning to discuss the effort.

by Jack Kuenzie
Updated 6:22pm by BrettWitt

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