By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio News
A group that helps resettle refugees in central Iowa is preparing the area for possible new arrivals.
The Des Moines Field Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has started a donation drive in anticipation of more refugees coming to the area this year.
President Joe Biden pledged to increase the refugee cap up to 125,000 per year. This is a significant increase over former President Donald Trump’s limit. Even though Biden has not signed the determination, Kerri True-Funk said Iowa needs to be prepared.
As the director of the Des Moines field office, she said they expect to resettle more than last year’s 75 refugees to central Iowa. But she does not think the area will reach the record of more than 660 in 2016.
“But I do anticipate that, especially as vaccinations rollout and mitigation efforts continue, that the numbers will start to come up,” True-Funk said.
Right now True-Funk said they are raising funds to buy mattresses for the expected refugees. They have raised about 10 percent of their $15,000 goal.
“One thing that we ensure for all arriving families that is new is that they get a new bed. This is something that is one of the most expensive parts of setting up a household, but it might be the first new bed that they have gotten in their lives,” she said.
She said it is difficult to determine the exact number of refugees that can be expected in central Iowa once or if Biden signs the determination, but there are a number of variables to consider. The pandemic has made international travel a larger obstacle than usual.
“Due to the pandemic, things have been a little bit slow,” True-Funk said. “But we are anticipating as vaccination efforts worldwide are being undertaken. And the determination ceiling goes up that we will get new arriving refugee families.”
Since the Des Moines field office has not seen a large number of refugees to resettle in years, True-Funk said “infrastructure wise, you know, we’re at a bare bones case management and interpretation staff.”
They were downsized in the past administration because of the lower refugee cap. But now that the cap is expected to rise again, True-Funk said they are looking into communities to increase both the number of paid employees and volunteers.
USCRI helps resettle refugees along with Catholic Charities Diocese of Des Moines, where Kelyn Anker is the refugee services manager. She said it is important for Iowa to accept refugees in its communities.
“They fill many hard-to-fill jobs,” Anker said. “And they help to diversify our state and contribute to the state’s culture.”
“A lot of the folks that come here as refugees are wanting to work, they want to get out on their own. They want to stand on their own two feet and set up a life for themselves and their kids. And they’re ready to work,” True-Funk added.