- Stephanie Moris is director of Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa.
In response to recent Registry articles on Afghan arrivals and refugee resettlement, the Central Iowa Refugee Alliance, of which I am director, hopes to provide additional context on what has happened in resettlement in Iowa and talk about how we as a community can better support the programs and people who do this work.
When the Afghan government fell last August and the United States, along with coalition partners around the world, debated what it could do to help those fleeing, the route chosen was one that would help ensure the safety of people as much as possible.
As a reminder, there are currently more than 100 million displaced people in the world (more than half of whom are children). Only 24 million received a “refugee” designation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the organization that processes each claim. Of these 24 million, less than 1% end up being resettled in new permanent housing each year. Many people never end up being resettled and may spend their lives waiting in camps.
Additionally, refugee camps around the world are often vulnerable to additional violence or conflict, weather disasters and many other hazards. Thousands of people have died in the past year alone from violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and other places, fires in camps in Bangladesh, and severe drought and famine. hit Yemen and other areas. Many people have been victims of physical and sexual assault.
When we saw more than 70,000 people fleeing the Taliban last fall, the United States had to bring them straight into the country – into resettlement systems that were already operating at 80% reduced capacity and facing national affordable housing crises – or place them in these longer-term and potentially volatile waiting systems. In regular refugee resettlement, arrivals are spread over an entire year, with information and accommodations known and ready in advance. We received more arrivals last winter than in the past two years combined. This very large influx of people at the same time and the challenges it created were experienced in every resettlement location across the country.
Iowa has been resettling refugees under the Modern Resettlement Program for nearly 50 years and is internationally recognized for successfully resettling more than 40,000 people in our state. The agencies doing this work locally together have a wealth of experience, often being former refugees themselves, and a coalition of community support and collaboration that has made our state a leader in this work.
Our greatest asset in resettling refugees here in Iowa, however, is easily those who do this work every day. The staff and volunteers of resettlement agencies and other ethnic community organizations, or ECBOs, have the clout and the responsibility to act as a lifeline for tens of thousands of people. There is no option to take on the work of the few people they can help; they serve everyone, through established systems of equity.
The systemic barriers that these employees and volunteers face every day, the vicarious trauma, the politicized nature of this work…there are so many daily reminders of how difficult this work is. They don’t do it to make money or to advance in their career. They come forward because serving some of the most vulnerable members of our community is their calling. You will never see the countless daily successes they have on social media or online. But for those who work or volunteer alongside these organizations, we are absolutely amazed by the care and passion these people put into their work every day and how much they sacrifice to do the work they do.
If we as a community want to help the new residents of Iowa acclimate to their new homes, it is crucial to support these resettlement agencies and the ECBOs, especially because we have seen two humanitarian crises in so little time, while mitigating a global pandemic.
Here are four ways to get involved:
Volunteer and donate to organizations
Resettlement agencies have ways for people to sign up as volunteers, donate needed items or make monetary donations directly to their organization. Links to each are available on the RACI website: www.refugeeallianceofcentraliowa.org. Policies are in place to ensure equitable distribution and access to services for each person who arrives through these programs and to ensure that work is carried out in a way that empowers and does not re-victimize.
Change policy to allow support to last longer
The way refugee resettlement worked here in the 1970s and 1980s and the way it works in many other places around the world is to provide support services to newcomers for two years to allow them training, the education and support they needed to become fully self-sufficient. – sufficient and full participation in civic life. Currently, US agencies are required to achieve this level of self-sufficiency in just 90 (sometimes 180) days. The refugees arrive in debt and have to repay the travel expenses they used just to get here. If we as a community want to help improve these processes, joining forces to increase these timelines or the funding available to resettlement agencies would help immensely.
Strengthen other systems on which refugees depend
We need greater systemic change in many areas that often place the most burden on staff and volunteers: housing, funding for English language learners, and a broken immigration system. Affordable housing in Iowa, like most other places, is incredibly hard to find and can create additional issues with transportation, child care, workplace accessibility, health, mental health And much more. Increases for both K-12 ELL programming and community funding streams are needed, as are employers willing and trained to work with limited English speakers.
Refugees and immigrants often face the same obstacles as people born in Iowa when encountering not only survival statuses but also enduring economic statuses. Imagine mitigating all of these factors in a system and language you don’t know. Our immigration system itself creates additional challenges for many of the most vulnerable people in our community; listening to the many experts in this field on solutions (like passing the Afghan Adjustment Act) could help the federal government save billions of dollars while speeding up much-needed services.
Provide sustainable funding for resettlement work
Finally, ECBOs need long-term, sustainable funding so that refugee and immigrant communities have the resources to meet community needs, as well as to advocate for themselves, be represented in planning and leadership, and the presence and support of all of us. at local events or other public spaces. After initial resettlement periods are completed, dozens of ECBOs work with resettlement agencies and community partners to help fill any gaps new Iowans may face. These organizations have kept tens of thousands of Iowans informed and safe during a global pandemic, even as these communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 while holding the economy and health systems together. Iowa food production. They deserve to be recognized and valued as the vital assets of our communities that they are.
We have a long history of welcoming new Iowans to our state, especially when all the little pieces of the puzzle help create a bigger picture. We can continue to live up to Governor Bob Ray’s legacy of hospitality, especially when we do it together.
Stephanie Moris is director of Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa.