Who are refugees?

Worldwide, there are currently about  65 million forcibly displaced people – the highest number ever recorded in modern times. Of those, approximately 21 million are refugees who have fled their home countries as a result of conflict and violent persecution (http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html). The average length of time that someone remains a refugee is 17 years, a time-span that has increased over the past two decades due to the intractability of many conflicts.

A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

The most vulnerable refugees include, among others, women at risk, survivors of torture, and orphans and other minors separated from their families. Without long-term solutions, these refugees will remain in desperate situations for decades, living in overcrowded refugee camps and urban areas, unable to rebuild their lives in dignity and peace.

Based on United States refugee processing center estimates, since 1975, 3 million refugees have been admitted and resettled in the USA, and Iowa has been the home to 30,000+ war-torn refugees (http://www.wrapsnet.org/).

Once recommended for resettlement and accepted within U.S., a security screening is conducted to determine if it will admit a refugee case.  A U.S. led multi-year screening involves collaboration from 8 US federal agencies and a preparation process that happens before a refugee can travel to the U.S. Refugees mostly go through a period of 18 to 24 months of vetting (https://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/).

The U.S. model of refugee resettlement emphasizes path to citizenship, immediate and indefinite work eligibility and repayment of travel loan.

Early resettlement happens through the resettlement agencies. In central Iowa, there are 2 resettlement agencies: Catholic Charities and US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Their responsibility is to provide services to the refugees for up to 90 days from their arrival and includes:

  • Airport Reception; Safe, affordable housing; Provision of basic necessities
  • Social Security Cards; School Enrollment; Health Screening
  • Employment services and job placement; Assistance applying for benefits
  • Riding the bus; Cultural Orientation
  • Employment Orientation; English as a Second Language (ESL) classes

However, beyond these initial settlement, there are other training and empowerment services provided by many other organizations both public and private (LSI, Oakridge Neighborhood Services, DMACC, EMBARC, Bureau of Refugee Services, VNS, NISSA). This is an opportunity for a network of organizations such as Foundation, Church, and educational institutions of higher learning come together voluntarily and invest each year in refugee related services.  It takes strong partnership and support to ensure Iowa is a good place for refugees to thrive by capitalizing on the individual and collective capacity and integrate with the American way of life.

Toward better serving the refugees in Iowa, especially in Central Iowa, Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa (RACI) was formalized as an organization in 2016. RACI seeks to increase awareness of and access to services, resources and programs so that refugees receive the maximum support services as they resettle and become participatory citizens in central Iowa.

RACI partners provide targeted assistance in the areas of health, housing and transportation, interpretation, education, legal, along with advocacy at federal, state, and local government level.

RACI is committed to making central Iowa a welcoming community for refugees, one in which they have an equal opportunity to achieve individual growth and prosperity and to fully participate in civic and cultural life.