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JOHNSTON --- Once the process is completed, it’s likely more than 1,000 refugees from Afghanistan will have been resettled in Iowa, according to a state refugee services worker.
As of mid-December, roughly 700 Afghans had been resettled in Iowa, Mak Suceska, bureau chief for the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services within the Iowa Department of Human Services, said during the Wednesday taping of “Iowa Press” at Iowa PBS Studios.
He expects that number to grow to more than 1,000, he said.
Iowa has been taking in refugees from Afghanistan since the U.S. ended its military involvement in the country in August.
Suceska and Kerri True-Funk, director of the Des Moines field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said the refugees are relocating in cities across the state, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, the Quad-Cities, Sioux City and Council Bluffs.
“Refugees come with a great sense of loss. So whatever opportunities they may have presented to them in a new home, there is going to be gratitude without a doubt,” Suceska said.
“So a lot of the stories that we hear are paired with the challenges and hurdles families face, but also the successes, being grateful to be out of a dire situation and into a new place where it is safe, where there are supports and resources,” he said.
“We met with some families last week that are just very grateful to have the opportunity to start their new lives.”
Suceska, who came to Iowa as a child with his family in 1993 from war-torn Yugoslavia, said Iowa has a history of welcoming refugees.
“There has been an outpouring of support from top down, really across the state from our state leadership with Gov. (Kim) Reynolds’ office to our Department of Human Services leadership as well as our community as a whole, really wanting to support these vulnerable individuals,” Suceska said.
“With that legacy that they are accustomed to from the ’70s and ’80s, many of those former faith-based organizations, volunteers and sponsors have stepped up once again to try to help support.”
Suceska said the refugees overall tell him they have found Iowa communities welcoming.“
“I think Iowa, overall, with its legacy and the work that we have done, has been a welcoming state for some time,” he said. “It is very important to hear from our leadership that Iowa remains to be that way, and we continue to build on that legacy to ensure that everyone coming to our state, specifically refugees, have a welcoming home.”
True-Funk said programs and resources are in place to help refugees resettle, especially during their first three months here.
“So once a family gets here, in that first 90 days, we help them do everything from get a Social Security number to get initial doctor's visits, get medical assistance and (food assistance) benefits until they are able to get working and find housing, register their kids for school,” True-Funk said.
“And we also have an initial employment program for people that don’t have a lot of barriers to finding employment. So if they are willing and able to work, … we can help them find jobs.
“All of that, even with the employment program, takes place within the first eight months that they are here. So it is really time-crunched, a lot of services in a short period of time. And then we’re able to give them some longer-term support through some of our additional programming.”
The world is experiencing a refugee crisis, according to the International Rescue Committee. United Nations data shows 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced in 2020, a figure that has doubled over the past decade.
“Remember that refugees aren’t refugees at the beginning,” Suceska said. “They are individual citizens, people just like you and I who happen to become refugees.
“So from war to climate change or other issues that may have affected people, that is where we have seen an increase in refugee resettlement and refugees as a whole,” he added.
“For Iowa and what that means for our country and even our state is that we will continue to help support to the best of our ability. … and I think Iowa is poised well to answer that call.”
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What: Refugee resettlement in Iowa on “Iowa Press”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS; 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World