Equity & Diversity

Report: Iraqi Refugees Are Resettled ‘Into Poverty’

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 16, 2009 1 min read

How U.S. schools are supporting Iraqi refugee children is one bright spot in a report released today by the International Rescue Committee called “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits.” The report is based on interviews with Iraqi refugees and people who support them in Atlanta and Phoenix.

The authors of the report met Iraqi parents in those cities who were frustrated with their own situation but hopeful about the prospects of their children. The report’s authors talked with Iraqi students and educators at the DeKalb International Student Center in Atlanta and the Montebello Elementary School in Phoenix. They met a 21-year-old Iraqi refugee, Ahmmed, who had resettled in May 2006. He was a senior this school year at Washington High School and set to graduate at the end of the school year.

But the report’s authors found that many Iraqi adults were facing very bleak circumstances.

Many Iraqi newcomers have not landed secure jobs. The refugees are running out of resources (they are eligible for federal assistance for only eight months), and many are facing eviction and poverty. Some were tortured in Iraq and continue to experience emotional effects from such trauma. Many are war widows with children who have little work experience.

The report recommends that Congress reform the refugee resettlement program by appropriating emergency funds to prevent evictions and to extend the amount of time for federal assistance. It suggests that the aid that refugees receive should be made uniform nationally; now the level of financial support differs dramatically from state to state. It says that refugees should be better prepared in orientation before they come to the United States in what to expect. In addition, the report calls for a comprehensive review of the refugee resettlement system to determine how it should be overhauled.

It also provides an update of the numbers of Iraqi refugees who are being resettled in the United States. So far in 2009, 4,941 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States. In the calendar year of 2008, the United States received 14,860 Iraqi refugees, up from 2,597 in 2007.

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