Equity & Diversity

Refugee Arrivals to U.S. in 2010: Iraqis, Burmese, Bhutanese

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 08, 2010 2 min read
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The United States has received Iraqis, Burmese, and Bhutanese in larger numbers in 2010 than any other refugee groups, according to the Refugee Processing Center Web site, which a blog reader brought to my attention. As of the end of last month, 8,734 Iraqis, 7,731 Burmese, and 6,632 Bhutanese had arrived in the United States during the 2010 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010.

I like to keep up to date on which groups are arriving in the largest numbers so I can write about the educational background and school expectations of different refugee groups. Educators who are expecting to receive a new group of refugees are also hungry to know something about the culture, history, and language of the people.

This school year I had a chance to tell you something about Iraqis arriving in schools in El Cajon, Calif. I think it’s particularly important for schools to be aware that many Iraqi children didn’t go to school in Syria, Jordan, and other countries they lived in after fleeing the war and related strife in Iraq. Because many Iraqi parents have received a good education, they have high expectations for U.S. schools.

Two years ago, I wrote about the first arrivals in U.S. schools of Bhutanese refugees, who are Nepalese-speaking people who didn’t have family connections in the United States. Only 150 Bhutanese were living in the United States before the U.S. Department of State decided to accept about 60,000 Bhutanese seeking resettlement in this country. Many of the refugees had lived in camps in Nepal for 16 years. It was important for U.S. educators to know many children had learned some English already in refugee camp schools.

I haven’t yet written about Burmese refugees, but I hope I’ll get the chance to do so. In the meantime, I invite readers who are working with this group to share information about them.

In writing about Iraqis this year, I learned that resettlement has been particularly difficult because of the economic downturn. The entry-level jobs that refugees typically land have been scarce during the economic crisis. Some refugee advocacy groups say the United States isn’t providing the kind of support the refugees need to get on their feet.

I’m sure that whether a refugee family can gain financial stability has a lot to do with how well refugee children adjust to school.

Laura Gardner, an education technical assistance specialist at Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services, pointed me to the Web site that tracks refugee arrivals. Her group, a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is funded by the federal office of refugee resettlement (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to provide technical assistance to schools and other organizations supporting refugee children and their families. You can find more about the group’s work with schools here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.