Observers are at odds on whether attacks on Asian refugees are rising

Are violence and crime against Southeast Asian refugees really rising? It's hard to tell. There are no reliable national statistics. So any general conclusions are somewhat impressionistic, drawn from a pallet of seemingly isolated incidents. According to Wallace Warfield, associate director of the Community Relations Service for the US Justice Department, crime against refugees is ``definitely a growing problem in all parts of the country.'' Between 1984 and 1985, he says, ``the new cases that came to our attention went up 62 percent.''

``The number of incidents is still increasing,'' says Stewart Kwoh, director of the Asian-Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. Based on his firm's Racial Violence Monitoring Project, he says, ``It's clear that the number of violent incidents is also increasing.''

To others, however, the trend is not so clear.

Some observers say the increase in incidents only reflects the refugees' increasing willingness to report them -- a fact that shows how residents are becoming more comfortable with the US legal system.

``Our perception is that [violence against Southeast Asian refugees] has decreased,'' says Allan F. Gall, a program analyst for the US Office of Refugee Resettlement. ``The natural process of economic dislocation and disruption has settled down, and there don't seem to be many repercussions.'' Throughout US history, he notes, new immigrants have faced discrimination and violence.

While Mr. Warfield differs with Mr. Gall on the trajectory of the problem, he agrees that ``if you put it into historical context, it makes it a little less hysterical.''

The US Commission on Civil Rights also hopes to be more statistical than hysterical in its study of anti-Asian violence in 13 cities, including six in California. Says project director Thomas Watson: ``From news reports, there was some indication that it was a problem in these parts of the country.'' He says the report should be released this summer or early fall.

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