Monday, July 09, 2007

"Too Early to Cheer"

In last week's guest blog, Ken Bacon of Refugees International wrote that the U.S. resettled 63 Iraqi refugees in June. Although this is a huge accomplishment (a 6,300% increase!!), Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) Ellen Sauerbrey's continued false claims about our commitment to Iraqi refugees make it too soon to cheer our moral victory.

Sauerbrey stated back in February that the U.S. would be able to resettle 7,000 Iraqis in the 2007 fiscal year. Then PRM backtracked and said they would at least get that many referrals from the UN (which they did –- ahead of schedule). Now they’re claiming they might get 2,000 Iraqis resettled in the U.S. by year’s end.

Then, on July 5th, Sauerbrey wrote a letter to the editor at the Washington Post, claiming “the United States has funded 30 percent of the appeal from the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] for $60 million to help Iraqis.” But this, too, is false. According to Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch, the U.S. has only funded $12 mill
ion, not $18 million.

So our administration has been scaling down its quota for Iraqi refugees and backtracking on its promises. Their excuse was that the Department of Homeland Security had not created its special screening process for Iraq refugees. That process was created at the end of May, and my guess is that the latest 63 Iraqis to resettle here are a result of DHS' progress. UNHCR already reached its quota of 7,000 referrals for resettlement. Even if DHS can resettle 63 in just one month, immediately after creating its screening process, we should only expect to bring in another 189 Iraqi refugees by the end of this fiscal year, far short of 2,000.

This is
pathetic and unacceptable. It's our moral responsibility to help Iraqis who have been displaced as a result of this war, especially those who have sided with the U.S. in the reconstruction of Iraq. With your help, we will keep the pressure on the administration to live up to its claims and to our collective responsibility.


Anonymous said...

Do the US shortcomings in admitting refugees deter other countries from responding to the problem also by setting such a poor example? It seems that our increasing the number of refugees we bring in would multiply the total number of refugees escaping Iraq.

Chris Breuer said...

Anonymous, I've never seen any sort of statistic or documentation that explains the effect of U.S. refugee policy on the refugee policies of other countries. That having been said, we all know that leaders set an example for others and in this way encourage others to follow their actions.

It is safe to say that U.S. policies sometimes directly affect the policies of other countries (witness England's following the U.S. into war in 2003). But this is not always the case. Sweden has a very generous refugee policy and has taken in many thousands of Iraqi refugees, despite the policy of the U.S. (However, Swedish immigration courts have recently ruled that Iraqis who cannot demonstrate a direct threat on their lives are ineligible for asylum.)

If the United States wants to take the idea of world leadership seriously then it is certainly within our interests to help Iraqi refugees. But no matter how U.S. refugee policy affects other countries, the moral imperative to help our allies and to support the region, especially Syria and Jordan, with the inundation of refugees remains.

"It seems that our increasing the number of refugees we bring in would multiply the total number of refugees escaping Iraq."

Well, our refugee policy to date certainly hasn't deterred Iraqis from leaving already. They didn't flee thinking they would make it to the U.S. Rather, they simply escaped the violence. And my feeling is that Iraqis will continue to leave their country at an enormous rate no matter what U.S. refugee policy is.

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