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Ticket Fee Limits Some Local Groups From Attending State-Sponsored Refugee Event

Two posters in support of refugees stand outside the County Administration Ce...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Two posters in support of refugees stand outside the County Administration Center in downtown San Diego, Dec. 10, 2015.

Tickets for the California Department of Social Services-sponsored Refugee Summit started at $190.

Refugee-service providers and advocates across California are meeting in San Diego Wednesday and Thursday for the sold-out 2017 Refugee Summit, but some local groups will be missing out because they say tickets to the state-sponsored event were expensive. Entry to the California Department of Social Services-sponsored Refugee Summit started at $190.

Oren Robinson, treasurer for the San Diego Refugee Forum, a nonprofit coalition of community members and local organizations, said the lowest price was too high for many of its 52 members. He said it was further out of reach for other community groups who can not even afford the forum’s fee.

Summit Prices

2017 Refugee Summit, San Diego: $190/$225

2015 CalWORKs and Refugee Training Academy, Anaheim: $325/$400

2011 Refugee Summit, Sacramento: $165/$195

2010 Refugee Summit, Sacramento: $165/$195

2008 Refugee Summit, Los Angeles: $200/$240

Source: California Dept. of Social Services

“There’s great groups like the Haitian Bridge Alliance that are doing great work here in San Diego but aren’t able to pay the $60 member fee for the Refugee Forum," Robinson said.

The Refugee Forum purchased three tickets to raffle off. After the forum's leadership raised concerns to the California Department of Social Services about the high price, the agency said it would consider mitigating costs for some groups in the future, Robinson said.

Mohammed Tuama, founder and director of the nonprofit Newcomers Support and Development, said he is also unable to afford the ticket fee to attend. Tuama's organization, which is a San Diego Refugee Forum member, helps immigrants who are certified in their native countries find employment opportunities in their field. He said he had hoped to discuss his agency's work with "the funders, the decision-makers, the program directors" likely in attendance at the summit.

"Because basically what we were doing since 2009 is to raise awareness about the skilled and foreign-credentialed newcomers, which are doctors, engineers and all they're doing now is Uber driving or translators or interpreters," said Tuama, who arrived to San Diego as a refugee from Iraq.

California Department of Social Services Spokesman Michael Weston said in an email summit prices are determined in part by location and that two past conferences cost more. Weston ignored requests for a phone interview to discuss the matter but wrote, "Keeping the cost low is a focus to allow for participation from a wide range of refugee service providers."

KPBS requested a line-item budget for the summit and is awaiting the agency to provide responsive documents.

The two-day summit includes representatives from resettlement agencies, social service organizations, government offices and other panelists discussing key topics in the refugee community, such as affordable housing and employment. Congresswoman Susan Davis, D-San Diego, is scheduled to deliver the key note address.

RELATED: Investigation: San Diego Refugees Face Housing Dilemma

Weston said more than 200 participants are expected.

A joint meeting of the County Refugee Coordinators and State Advisory Council on Refugee Assistance and Services is set for Wednesday morning and is open to the public.

Last federal fiscal year, San Diego County accepted the most refugees than any other region in the U.S.

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