Philadelphia and Its Iraqi Refugees: Lessons from the Northeast
Near Eastern Languatge and Civilizations
Heather J. Sharkey
Islamic World and Near East History
Near Eastern Languages and Societies
Urban Studies and Planning
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 produced millions of refugees, some of which were relocated to the United States. City planners need to consider refugees’ adaptation and movement within the United States and the impacts of migration on their communities. What can refugee communities can do for urban revitalization, and what can urban communities contribute to refugees’ resettlement success? These questions are answered in a case study of Iraqi refugees in Philadelphia using quantitative data from stakeholder agencies and geographic information system (GIS) data. Interviews with Philadelphia refugee resettlement stakeholders is incorporated with news reports and scholarship to paint a full picture of refugee resettlement in Philadelphia. The major finding of this study is that the Iraqi refugee community of Philadelphia is dispersed, and its neighborhood is extremely multicultural with no single ethnic character. Thus, the Iraqi refugees in Philadelphia are not provided with the full benefits of an enclave, and are also left without long-term institutional support or substantial community organizations, despite being vulnerable at many levels. Philadelphia is a Legacy City: an old, industrial city suffering from population decline. This paper proposes that investment in centralized data keeping and accountability, research, and community-building would not only serve the Iraqi refugees themselves, but their contributions to this Legacy City in need of revitalization could advance the city’s potential to re-emerge as an immigrant gateway, with manifold benefits to Philadelphia itself.