Posted by: sean | January 31, 2007

Our responsibility to Iraqi refugees

I’ve been hearing a bit about Iraqi refugees lately, and when I was in Amman, Jordan last year, they were impossible to ignore. And even if they’re less visible in Syria, it seems that there are also many Iraqis who have taken refuge in Damascus as well. The numbers are alarming: 1.8 million internally displaced Iraqis and 2 million who have sought refuge abroad.

So what has the US’s response been? To take in fewer than 500 Iraqis and to set up a program that allows Afghans and Iraqis who have worked with the American military to immigrate to the US. The maximum limit of people accepted into this program each year: 50 people.

There has not been enough media coverage of this problem, which is why I am glad to see that the Times has an op-ed today about our responsibility to Iraqi refugees:

To calculate the price that Iraqis have paid for the American misadventure in their country, you have to deal in big, round, horrifying numbers. Civilians killed last year: 34,000. Driven from their homes within Iraq: 1.8 million. Fled to other countries: an additional 2 million, and growing. The number of Iraqis who have found refuge in the United States is easier to pin down. This country has admitted a grand total of 466 Iraqi refugees since 2003.

However President Bush tries to manage the endgame of his dismal war, America has an obligation to the Iraqis whose lives it has upended. It owes a particular debt to those who have faced incredible dangers working with American forces as interpreters, guides and contractors. These allies — and their families — have become a haunted and hunted group, branded as traitors and targeted for kidnapping and assassination by insurgents and militias.

By any measure, the Bush administration is failing them. The current price tag for the war is $8 billion a month, yet the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the coming fiscal year to help shelter Iraqi refugees overseas and to resettle them here. A special visa program to resettle Iraqi and Afghan military translators has been capped at 50 people a year and has a six-year waiting list.

NPR has had some good coverage of the refugee issue, as well as on congressional hearings on ameliorating the situation and the individual faces of the crisis, as seen in the story of an Iraqi translator forced to flee after working with the Americans. NPR also has a segment on the differences between the policies toward Vietnamese and Iraqi refugees.

According to an interview with Ropert Green, UN High Commission for Refugees representative in Jordan (most UN Iraq offices are in Amman since Iraq is too dangerous), based on an agreement with the Government of Jordan, they are “restricted in how we can actually apply that refugee title” to Iraqis. The Jordanian agreement requires UNHCR to find a third country of resettlement willing to host each Iraqi who has been labeled a refugee, which is why only 600 out of the over 700,000 refugees in Iraq have been officially designated as refugees.



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