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Georgetown University study on Iraqi refugees in the US

January 4, 2010

The Georgetown University School of Law has produced a new and very thorough study entitled, "Refugee Crisis in America: Iraqis and their resettlement experience."  Click here to read the full report.  The executive summary is included, below on this page.

This study focuses on Iraqi refugees in only a few locations.  It is important to note that the Disciples and UCC refugee resettlement programs work through Church World Service, which does not resettle in the cities where the study took place.  Church World Service uses the congregational model of resettlement, seeking to find churches that can help refugees make a smooth transition into life the United States.  This study focuses on refugees that were resettled by other organizations where caseworkers are the main providers of any assistance available to them.  When caseworkers are overwhelmed by the number of refugee arrivals, they have no backup system for those who fall through the cracks of the services they are able to provide.

The Disciples and UCC celebrate the many Iraqi families that have made smooth transitions into the United States through the resettlement activities of our congregations.  You can find stories of a couple of those experiences at:

Connecticut UCC church helps resettle Iraqi family
Small Town Disciples Church Welcomes Iraqis to the Big City (see p. 3 of linked document)
Iraqi Family Arrives to Eight Lincoln Disciples' Congregations (item on p. 2 of linked document)
Iraqi Refugees Welcomed to Portland by Disciples' Congregation (on p. 1 of linked document)

"Refugee Crisis in America: Iraqis and their resettlement experience."
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
 
Across the United States, many resettled Iraqi refugees are wondering how, after fleeing persecution at home to seek refuge in a country that barely tolerated them, they have found themselves in "the land of opportunity" with little hope of achieving a secure and decent life.  From Washington, D.C. to Detroit to San Diego, recently resettled Iraqi refugees face odds so heavily stacked against  them that most end up jobless, some even homeless.
 
One Iraqi widow in D.C. lives with her three young children in a shelter. "I left Iraq to find security," she says.  "But what kind of security is it to live in a homeless shelter?"
 
This report seeks to shed light on the oft-forgotten domestic side of the refugee equation, focusing on Iraqis recently resettled in the United States.  Though many advocates worked tirelessly to encourage the U.S. government to accept Iraqis who were forced to flee a war initiated by the United States, few have studied what happens to those refugees after they arrive here.  Indeed, while the international  community identifies resettlement as one of three "durable solutions" for refugees, there has been scarce focus on just how durable the U.S. resettlement system actually is.  
 
The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is unique in giving new life and opportunity to millions of refugees, accepting many times more than the rest of the world combined.   But this report finds that the United States is opening its gates to refugees and simply forgetting about them after they have arrived.  In the process, the United States is in danger of failing to meet its legal obligations to extend protection to the most vulnerable refugees, promote their long-term self-sufficiency, and support their integration.

As these new refugees from Iraq arrive in ever-greater numbers, and as the U.S. economy continues to offer little prospect for those seeking work, there is an urgent need to diagnose the ills of refugee resettlement before they become incurable.
 
This report is the culmination of months of research by a team of students at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.   The topic was proposed and designed by members of the student group Georgetown Human Rights Action in partnership with the Law Center's Human Rights Institute.  The project sought to determine the extent to which Iraqi refugees have been afforded protection and a durable solution through the USRAP.
 
To this end, researchers conducted extensive fact-finding, including interviews in the Washington, D.C.; Detroit, Michigan; San Diego, California; and Amman, Jordan.  In order to evaluate the USRAP, researchers used U.S. obligations to refugees under international and domestic law as a baseline.  
 
The project's research supports the following findings that are further detailed in the report:
 
•  Iraqi refugees rarely enjoy legal protection and long-term self-sufficiency in Jordan.  The overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees interviewed in Jordan could not secure legal employment in the formal economy.  Not all Iraqi refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which compromises their ability to gain access to assistance.  Moreover, most Iraqi refugees in Jordan do not have access to adequate legal protections such as residency, work permits, and police protection, and are discriminated against, extorted, and abused as a result.
 
•  Resettlement remains an important solution for many Iraqi refugees.  Some refugees, including particularly vulnerable refugees, are refusing resettlement offers to the United States because of a perceived lack of post-resettlement services. However, most Iraqi refugees interviewed for this report desired  to be resettled to the United States. 
 
•  The application of mainstream U.S. anti-poverty programs to refugee assistance under the USRAP does not promote the long-term self-sufficiency  of refugees.  It does not break down barriers to sustainable employment, employment services are not properly funded, English language training is insufficient, transportation is inadequate, and professional recertification is not viable.  These deficiencies result in low employment rates for Iraqi refugees.  Additionally, cash assistance is insufficient, both in amount and duration, to allow refugees to support themselves.  Finally, the USRAP makes it difficult for refugees to secure medical care, and treatment options are insufficient to address the serious mental health issues that affect many Iraqi refugees.
 
•  Poor planning and coordination throughout the USRAP amplify the problems that refugees face.  Pre-resettlement processing takes little account of post-resettlement needs when gathering information about individual refugees. The USRAP does not base services capacity-setting on current or future refugee flows, leaving programs improperly funded.  Secondary migration is not properly tracked, further preventing the USRAP from targeting resources to actual needs. 
 
In accordance with these findings, this report presents the following general recommendations:
 
•  Refugee resettlement should be decoupled  from U.S. anti-poverty programs and tailored to the unique needs and experiences of refugees.  Refugee assistance should be increased from eight to eighteen months, and programs designed to promote the long-term self-sufficiency and integration of refugees should be better funded.  A stronger emphasis should be placed on the core barriers to  self-sufficiency and integration, including lack of English language skills, lack of transportation, and lack of opportunities for education and recertification.  
 
•  Funding for employment and social services should be tailored to estimates of incoming refugee arrivals and secondary migration, as well as the unique needs of these particular groups.  Funding should not be based on the number of past refugee arrivals.
 
•  All actors within the USRAP must improve planning and information sharing capabilities.  Planning should anticipate and prepare for the unique needs of each refugee group prior to arrival.  In order to tailor services for refugees, actors must take into account important information on refugees collected in the resettlement process, such as health status and professional background.

Click here to read the full report.



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