Refugee resources limited in Iowa City


Resources for refugees beyond basic resettlement have dwindled in recent years, forcing refugees to turn to families or publicly available programs.

Johnson County has no local specific service provider for those fleeing their homelands.

The number of programs that cater to refugees has dwindled nationwide, forcing refugees to rely more frequently on public programs available to any family, said John Wilken, the bureau chief for the state’s Bureau of Refugee Services, based in Des Moines.

“I’ve been with the program for 25 years, and I would say that it is one of the most challenging times,” he said.

The challenge lies in funding, he said. National financing for resettlement agencies has not changed for more than a decade, which has caused resettlement agencies to cut programs and offices in recent years.

“I don’t think it was a secret to anyone at any level that we were going to approach such a funding challenge,” Wilken said.

Dwindling funds has had a major effect in job placement, one of the core services offered by the bureau. Wilken said his offices have limited resources to help those who cannot find jobs.

“We have seen a significant increase in employers who won’t even let clients through the screening process,” he said.

The resettlement program provides the most basic services for refugees during the first 30 to 90 days after arriving in Iowa.

Refugees receive counseling on how to file the necessary paperwork for Social Security cards, information on how to adjust to life in America, and employment counseling.

Only one other resettlement agency exists in the state, through Lutheran Services in Iowa.

Lutheran Services is also based in Des Moines, meaning “free” refugees in Iowa — those who do not have family in America — are funneled into Polk County.

In addition to the office in Des Moines, Stacey Maifeld, communications coordinator of Lutheran Services’ Ames branch, said the group offers more limited services out of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and an office designed to work with Liberian refugees in the Muscatine area.

Refugees outside Polk County have to rely more on family and public programs, Wilken said. Some Iowa City refugees have found relief through such programs.

Those seeking a new life in Iowa City are considered “secondary” refugees who move from their original assignment locations. While some fall back on family and friends in the new city, others risk moving to areas where there are little or few resources.

But Iowa City offers some alternatives. The Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity has helped build houses for many Sudanese refugees in Iowa City, said Executive Director Mark Patton.

Refugees and immigrants are at an advantage in qualifying for the program because they typically have less debt and better credit scores, he said. The Sudanese community has a tight communication network, he said.

“Most are fairly well educated, working menial jobs,” Patton said. “They really have it in their mind for their children to succeed.”

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus
Daily Iowan Advertising
Today's Display Ads | Today's Classifieds | Advertising Info

Follow the DI through:

Sponsored Links  
T-Shirt Design  
Insurance Leads Charlotte Web Design
Health Insurance Leads Home Equity Loans
Home Service Guides  
Life Insurance DMI Furniture
Custom Magnets Buy a text ad


Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.