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Border & Immigration

Schools, Hospitals Struggle To Serve Large Iraqi Refugee Population

Iraqi refugees
Iraqi refugees

Schools, hospitals and health care clinics in East San Diego County are struggling to serve the more than 13 thousand Iraqi refugees who have come to the area since 2005.

After fielding an influx of concerns about lack of funding and other resources, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob organized what she called an historic meeting between federal, state and local refugee officials, and East County hospital and school representatives.

She said the meeting was a first step in getting a grasp on a problem that has the potential to multiply.


“The areas of need basically are employment, health, mental health services, job skills training, English classes, translation services, and unless we get the help needed, the problems will only get worse,” Jacob said.

The Cajon Valley School District has enrolled nearly two thousand English learners since 2008 — nearly all of them from Iraq. With funding cuts to schools, the district has had difficulty ramping up its services for non-English speakers, district officials say.

Sharp Grossmont hospital in nearby La Mesa is battling with an overtaxed emergency room made even more crowded with refugees without health insurance, said hospital CEO Michele Tarbet.

Refugees are given federal health and housing assistance for only 8 months.

Supervisor Jacob said she hoped the meeting would spur better coordination between the agencies serving Iraqi refugees.