Iowa expects nearly double its capacity for Afghan refugees

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 7:49 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - About two weeks ago, the Iowa Department of Human Services said Iowa had the capacity to resettle 350 refugees from Afghanistan. But, the federal government allocated nearly double, 695 refugees, to Iowa on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Human Services said the department is working with the federal government and resettlement agencies to learn more information and clarification on refugee numbers. The discrepancy is the second time our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative team found confusion between the state and the federal government regarding the processing of Afghan refugees.

Emails, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request, show employees at the Iowa Department of Human Services identifying inconsistencies in federal policy, along with other issues.

An attempt to seek comment from the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, which runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement, was redirected to the State Department.

Lemi Tilahun, who helps refugees in Cedar Rapids, said accepting more refugees than the state’s capacity would put a strain on Iowa’s refugee services. He said those services, which include healthcare, housing, and work assistance, are essential when a refugee tries to resettle.

“If we are getting more than what we are capable of that is going to put a strain on everything,” Tilahun said. “From costs to being able to delay families getting those essential services.”

Sara Zejinic, who is the director of Refugee and Immigrant Services at the Catherine McAuley Center, wrote in a text message that Iowa’s capacity could change at any point given a myriad of circumstances. She also said there is no guarantee that Iowa will receive more people than it has the capacity to properly resettle.

“So, if we don’t have capacity locally at any point we are able to say so and the case would be allocated to a different resettlement office,” Zejinic wrote.

Zejinic called the processing of Afghan refugees messy, two weeks ago. However, she also said a lot of people are working hard to do the best they can with the resources available.

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