Several dozen of the estimated 2 million Iraqis who have fled to neighboring countries since the U.S. invasion will probably begin arriving in Utah some time next fall, according to local refugee resettlement workers.
The exact number of Iraqi refugees and the exact month of their arrival are still uncertain, says Aden Batar, director of immigration and resettlement at Catholic Community Services in Salt Lake City. “All the information we have is to prepare,” he says.
The impact of 2 million displaced Iraqis on small countries such as Syria, says Patrick Poulin, resettlement director of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, “is similar to the U.S. taking in about 37 million of you-name-the-population in that same amount of time.”
He guesses his agency will resettle 20 to 30 refugees next fall, and that Catholic Community Services may also receive that many. The bulk of the refugees will probably arrive in 2008, says Norman Nakamura, state coordinator for Refugee Resettlement for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
For three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the UNHCR assumed that Iraq would stabilize and people would be able to return home, but in 2006 “spiraling violence led to increasing displacement,” according to the UNHCR report. The Bush administration, which originally had planned to admit 500 Iraqis this year, increased that number in February to 7,000.
The resettlement process, Nakamura explains, includes a sometimes lengthy background check by Homeland Security, then relocation paperwork. It’s a process that can take six to 18 months, he says.
[Aden] Batar of Catholic Community Services says that when his agency has more information about the new refugees he plans to meet with the Iraqi community along the Wasatch Front; he will help relocate refugees to Utah if they have family members already living here, he says.
Between 1995 and 2005, according to Nakamura, 335 Iraqi refugees were resettled in Utah, including Kurds, as well as Iraqis displaced during the Gulf War. The number of total Iraqis currently living in Utah is hard to pinpoint, he says. Batar estimates it is at least 1,000.
Although the new refugees will likely include both Sunnis and Shiites, Utah Iraqi Nadeem Ahmed says, “It doesn’t matter which sect they are. We will welcome them no matter who they are.”