Iraqi Refugee Resettlement in The News

The LA Times and Portland Morning Sentinel just published two very different stories on the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States. Both stories touch on issues I’ve been trying to get at in my posts on resettlement of Iraqi refugees.

From the LA Times:

In Iraq, [Raheem] owns property and has a job, and his son has a promising career in computer technology. Bombs, of course, still go off and gunfire still crackles in the streets. Neighborhood gossip is of sectarian killings and kidnappings. But the epidemic of bloodshed seems a thing of the past.

The local news, meanwhile, reports on America’s economic woes, of foreclosed homes being auctioned off for a pittance. Word filters back from Iraqis in the U.S. who are unable to find work, struggling to afford medical care, and devouring savings that once seemed everlasting.


The idea of going to the United States has long been a topic of discussion among Iraqis who have worked with Americans here in aid agencies, news organizations and the U.S. military. Their jobs make them susceptible to attacks by insurgents who have taken aim at U.S.-associated institutions and their most vulnerable employees: the Iraqis who come to work for them each day.

From the Morning Sentinel:

The Iraqis are arriving with little more than the clothes they can carry. Most of them are relocating from Atlanta, having heard that Portland offers the security, good schools and friendliness they found lacking in the much larger Southern city.


An additional 200 to 300 Iraqi families are expected to move here from Georgia and possibly other states in the next several months, according to city and school officials. They are choosing to relocate as legal residents of this country and have access to public services available to any disadvantaged person who lives in Portland.

In search of a safe place to raise their families, they are coming despite shoulder-high snowbanks and an uncertain future.

“The snow is nothing compared to the violence we experienced in Iraq. Even though it’s cold here, our children are safe,” said Huda Kadem, 40, speaking through a translator.

She came to Portland last month with her husband, Raed Khudhair, 45, and their five children, ages 10 to 22. The family is living in a third-floor apartment on Munjoy Hill and the children are enrolled in Portland public schools and adult education.

In Baghdad, Khudhair operated a grocery store and a taxi. In 2006, he said, his family was attacked and his elderly father was killed by Shia militiamen. The family fled the city, spent 10 months in Syria and five months in Atlanta, then saved enough money to fly to Portland. They lived in the city’s family shelter for a few weeks until a case worker set them up in an apartment.

“This is a beautiful place,” Khudhair said of Portland and his sparsely furnished home.

What these articles tell us about the resettlement of Iraqis:

–The Iraq War has affected all Iraqis, but it has not affected all Iraqis to the same extent or in exactly the same ways. As in all wars, some people have fared much worse than others. Members of certain groups, and people with certain professional and social backgrounds continue to be extremely vulnerable, despite the reduction in violence overall.

–Consequently, Iraqis are making personal judgement calls abouttheir safety. Some feel more comfortable staying, others see not leaving as reckless.  (Note to certain commentators: stop making blanket “It’s safe for them to go back!” statements.)

–Internal migration seems to be increasing, with resettled Iraqi refugees moving from their initial resettlement sites to cities with more job opportunities and better social services. Resettlement offices will need to re-determine their needs and head offices should be keeping track of which offices are suddenly losing/gaining clients. Moving funds around in the refugee resettlement world is a brain-liquefyingly long and needlessly bureaucratic process. If in-migration increases dramatically (as I predict it will), this will have to change.


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