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Report Reveals Struggles of Iraqi Refugees

October 8, 2009 – Few of the more than 30,000 Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States find their new home lives up to its reputation as “the land of opportunity,” according to a new report by Georgetown law students.

Seventeen students from the Law Center’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) and the student group Human Rights Action surveyed refugees settled here since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. The report shows that the United States, while welcoming Iraqi refugees in greater numbers than the rest of the world, has failed in successfully integrating them into U.S. communities.

“This is the fourth student-initiated project that has been jointly sponsored by Georgetown’s Human Rights Institute and Human Rights Action,” says Rachel Taylor, HRI’s interim director. She and law professor Elizabeth Campbell, who also serves as director of Refugee Council USA, supervised the research project. 

Reporting on Refugees

“For too long … there has been a myopic focus on the quantity of refugees admitted to the detriment of the quality of resettlement,” the report states. “Most are not securing sustainable employment, and many are not able to support themselves or their families on the public assistance they are receiving.” 

The report comes after more than nine months of research in which the law students interviewed representatives of U.S. and foreign government agencies; nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations; and advocacy and community groups, among others. 

They also interviewed nearly 75 Iraqi refugees across the country – including teachers, a physician, a veterinarian and a social worker. Many have found themselves unable to use the skills they left their country with and now face poverty, joblessness and even homelessness. 

Six of the students presented the report’s findings at the Law Center on Oct. 7, bringing awareness to the problems faced by the Iraqi refugees. The challenges range from insufficient English language training and job search assistance to insufficient medical and mental health care. 

“The recent displacement of Iraqis is the largest in the Middle East since 1948 and one of the most serious refugee problems in the world today,” said Luke Polcyn (L’10). 

Larry Yungk, a senior resettlement officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who spoke briefly during the presentation, said the commission welcomes the students’ independent research.

“While UNHCR’s role has mostly been overseas… we clearly have an interest that when refugees arrive, their needs are met,” he said, adding that the successful integration of refugees is critical. “Otherwise, they’re not going to get a durable solution.”

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