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The IRC in LA spearheads unprecedented collaboration on statewide refugee resettlement

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By Sarah Novicoff; International Rescue Committee Journalism Intern

The International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles will soon begin an unprecedented initiative to improve housing, education and employment prospects for recently resettled Syrian refugees by enhancing collaboration between the state’s 22 resettlement agencies (RAs).

Typically, California’s RAs operate independently from one another. In the face of the Syrian civil war’s displacement of four million refugees and President Obama’s 2015 pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees, a quarter of whom will likely be resettled in California, collaboration between RAs is imperative.

When the first Syrian refugees arrived in Los Angeles last year, after years of war and displacement, caseworkers were unable to rely on their usual network of social services agencies and religious organizations for help. The challenges of the Syrian refugee population, without the same regional support accessible to more populous immigrant and refugee communities, became evident to statewide RAs, most of whom had never worked with Syrian refugees. 

“The new cases will present an exponential increase in the demand for RAs’ services and resources to ensure refugees’ health and other needs are met,” said Martin Zogg, Executive Director of IRC-LA.  “To be effective, RAs will have to coordinate to a greater degree than ever before.”

Without a change in approach, the IRC in Los Angeles and other RAs would face “enormous challenges” in combatting health issues and other unique needs of those arriving from Syria, Zogg said. The new program will be supported through a $306,344 grant from the California Endowment, a private health foundation, and will give RAs greater financial flexibility to support this new refugee population and financial incentive to share information with one another.

“It also provides a model for the rest of the country in how RAs can use government, philanthropic and private support to address singular needs of a specific refugee population,” Zogg said.

This new initiative is the latest in a series of recent efforts to increase collaboration, an effort that began in 2014 with the first meeting of all Los Angeles RAs. In December 2015, the office organized the first-ever meeting of California RAs specifically to discuss Syrian resettlement.

Collaboration will continue this summer when the IRC in Los Angeles will make $5,000 collaboration grants available to all 22 state RAs in exchange for demographic information, such as the number of cases served annually, the employment rate of individuals, the number of minors enrolled in school and more. The IRC in Los Angeles will compile that data and make it available to participating RAs. RAs will also provide a list of alliances and community partnerships in their area, which the IRC in Los Angeles will use to create a statewide list of resources for Syrian refugees.