More Iraqi Refugees Likely to Call Chicago Home

Illinois may not be able to handle an upcoming Iraqi immigration surge

Over the next year, Chicago may become the top destination for Iraqi war refugees, according to Illinois officials.

The influx of Iraqi refugees has steadily increased as the war has progressed. In the first few years, fewer than 200 Iraqi refugees came to Illinois. But last year, more than 1,000 moved into the state, and nearly 1,400 are expected in the next 12 months, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Social service organizations and non-profit agencies may not be able to accommodate the increase. Many Iraqis who helped with the war effort or who became victims of the U.S.-led endeavor may be left without the assistance they feel they deserve.

"When we tell them to find private resources to be able to give them any type of support, that really, really upsets them," said Melineh Kano, program director of the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries. "They're like: 'Well, we put our life on the line, and we are expecting something in return.'"

The Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services reports that nearly 30,000 Vietnam War refugees live in the state, and the conflict in Iraq could lead to similar numbers.

But there's less money to go around. In 1975, the federal government allotted a stipend of $565 per refugee to non-profit agencies. Today, that amount is $430.

Not to mention that finding work and housing for the new residents is incredibly difficult in this struggling economy.

"It gets dicey making placements when the economy is bad," said Deborah Covington, associate vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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