Monday, May 14, 2007

Iraqi Refugees and the Administration's (Lack of) Response

Military preemption and unilateral action are the centerpieces of the Bush Doctrine, a policy that has landed our country in the deadly quagmire that is Iraq. Having prompted a civil war, it follows that the United States bears the moral responsibility for handling the humanitarian situation and, by extension, the regional refugee crisis.

The Iraq Study Group says the U.S. should “take the lead in funding assistance requests from the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies.” Rather than tackling the refugee problem directly, U.S. embassies do rely on the UNHCR’s referrals for immigrati
on. But of the 3,000 UNHCR referrals, the U.S. has taken only 68 since the beginning of fiscal year 2007 (as I mentioned in my last entry).

Do a bit of research and you will find that, in nearly every way the U.S. could help Iraqi refugees, the government has fallen severely short. Even regarding Iraqis who have assisted the U.S. military and embassies - who seemingly everyone agrees should be a p
riority--we have set too low a standard. Murthy Law Firm notes that special immigration visas for translators were capped at fifty per fiscal year. This quota was reached just over a month after the beginning of fiscal year 2007.

The refugee crisis is all the more urgent given that Iraq’s neighbors are beginning to make flight from Iraq more difficult and, in some cases, are turning Iraqis back at the border. According to
Refugees International and Human Rights Watch, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are placing increasing entry requirements for Iraqis. Syria and Jordan have taken in far more Iraqis than any other country in the Middle East, but new restrictions leave fewer options for those in greatest need.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) number at
800,000 since February 2006 alone. A March 2007 Congressional Research Service report notes, “Iraq’s internal population displacement appears to be accelerating into a humanitarian crisis that is well beyond the current capacity on the ground.”

In particular, it appears the Department of Homeland Security has fallen short. The DHS, which gives the final green light for refugees to immigrate, “has yet to come up with a new screening process so that refugees can be vetted for security purposes,” says Al Kamen in today’s Washington Post. Kenneth Bacon, President of Refugees International, adds, “Until this is a top-level government concern, not much is going to happen.”Rep. Blumenauer proposed The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act

The U.S. has begun acknowledging its obligation toward Iraqi refugees. As I wrote in my last entry, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3, right) proposed legislation to bring 20,000 Iraqis into the country this year. Bills such as this represent the first step in addressing the refugee crisis. There remains much work to be done in other parts of government. The Department of Homeland Security must, at very least, determine its new screening protocol and make the immigration process as efficient as possible while still maintaining security. The government also needs to earmark more than the meager $100 million promised for refugees by Paula Dobriansky, and much more than the $17 million appropriated for IDPs. Finally, the U.S. needs to work closely on the ground with the UNHCR, Iraq and its neighbors to alleviate this crisis.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) (EPIC Photo/Chris Breuer - 5/10/07)


t said...

Beyond Middle East neighbors, do the lesser educated and less wealthy Iraqis have refuge options beyond the extreme red tape the U.S. What about Europe, England, Australia, or even Asia? Is any one country doing more than the U.S. is doing to set a better example of humanitarianism?

Chris Breuer said...

Many Iraqis have chosen to immigrate to Europe, where Sweden has the best record of taking in refugees thus far. Sweden's liberal immigration and asylum policies make it an excellent destination for refugees, and a number of other European countries have taken in more Iraqis than the U.S. Unfortunately, those without wealth and influence have little choice but to remain in Iraq or to escape to the nearest border. Although I haven't seen the data, I suspect that it is the wealthier Iraqis who can make it to Europe.

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