The number of refugees coming into Iowa continues to decline. John Wilken with the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services says the influx of refugees peaked back when the bureau was created in the 1970’s, and the most recent numbers have been much less.
“Since 2005 forward I would say the numbers have gone down more to about seven or eight hundred a year, and this year we’re anticipating in the whole state of Iowa, there will probably be about 300 to about 350 arrivals. So it has been on a decline,” Wilken says. He says there’s a national downward trend and another factor is the decision by Lutheran Services of Iowa, and his depart to both stop resettling refugees 2010.
“Ours was a situation where the Department of State determined not to renew the resettlement contract with our agency as a national agency and that caused us to stop doing resettlement,” Wilken explained. “So having less capacity and less agencies, also affected the arrivals coming into the state.”
There’s been another type of refugees that have been increasing in numbers. They’re called “secondary migrants.” “They are individuals who were resettled somewhere else in the United States first, and then for whatever reason come to Iowa,” Wilken says.
In the last three years he says that secondary migration has centered on Polk County, Columbus Junction, Black Hawk County and Storm Lake — all places where there are meatpacking plants and jobs. Wilken says the impact of the secondary migration can be seen in the discussion of things like school budgets.
“Part of the difficulty is that secondary migration is not planned, so you have no idea how many people are going to come and that coupled with the planned arrivals sometimes put a crimp on services. It could be the schools, it could be social services, it could be medical services, and that sometimes is a challenge,” Wilken says.
But both types of migration also provide positive impacts. Wilken says,”On the upside, a lot of the communities who’ve have these kinds of influx of newcomers have found that it has reinvigorated economies, housing markets, especially in some of the smaller towns. So, there are things that happen on both sides of the equation.”
One of the most recent refugee migrations involves some 430 Bhutanese who have resettled mostly in the Des Moines area. There have also been Burmese refugees, and some from Iran.