Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Senator Ted Kennedy on Passage of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

The Honorable Edward (Ted) Kennedy is the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1962 - present) and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. He is also a Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services and Joint Economic Committees, and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In June he introduced The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act as an important step by the U.S. Senate to help better protect Iraq's most vulnerable refugees and address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. Thanks in part to the efforts of EPIC members and readers like you, the Senate passed a modified version of this important bill on Friday. The following speech was delivered shortly afterwards by Sen. Kennedy.

The late Arthur Helton, perhaps our country’s greatest advocate for the rights of refugees wrote, “Refugees matter…for a wide variety of reasons…Refugees are a product of humanity’s worst instincts – the willingness of some persons to oppress others – as well as some of its best instincts – the willingness of many to assist and protect the helpless…”.

A year later after he wrote those words, Arthur Helton was killed in Baghdad in 2003 when a bomb destroyed the UN headquarters in Iraq.

His words still resonate today, especially when we consider the immense human cost of the war in Iraq, and its tragic effect on the millions of Iraqis – men, women, and children – who have fled their homes and their country to escape the violence of a nation at war with itself.

These brave and heroic Iraqis work with the American military, staff our Embassy, and work with American organizations to support our mission in Iraq. They are among the four million Iraqi refugees who have been forced from their homes. They are the people we have an obligation to help.

Instead of protection, we have offered them bureaucracy and doublespeak, false words and dubious hopes. Despite the overwhelming need, the U.S. has resettled less than 2,000 Iraqis this fiscal year.

Last night the Senate acted and stood up to help Iraqi refugees. I want to thank Senators Levin and Senators McCain for adopting my amendment, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, cosponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators: Senators Smith, Levin, Hagel, Biden, Brownback, Lieberman, Leahy, Snowe, Durbin, Voinovich, Feinstein, Collins, Obama, Dole, Menendez, Mikulski, and Clinton.

The need is especially urgent for those whose work for the United States has put them in danger. Because they supported us, insurgents have repeatedly threatened to kill them. Many have lost their homes, their property, and their livelihoods. They face ongoing threats every single day. Some have fled the country and are waiting in refugee camps, and others are in hiding. All of them hope that the United States will not forget their sacrifices.

Still others have tried to flee, only to be stopped at the border, trapped in a country that cannot protect them, abandoned by a country—our country—that they believed would set them free. Others continue their work, living in fear of the day that the insurgents punish them for working with Americans.

They are women such as Sarah, whose husband worked as an interpreter for the Coalition Forces in a combat hospital. Although he kept his job secret, insurgents discovered his identity. They broke into the family home, kidnapped her and released her only after torturing and raping her. The family fled to a neighboring country where they have waited for almost a year in the hopes of qualifying for refugee status. Sarah’s husband has been forced to return to Iraq. Each day that passes without assistance brings the rest of the family closer to an involuntary return to Iraq. She wrote, “Dear gentlemen, I put my suffering between your hands as my hope in you is great that you will hear our calling.”

And they are men such as Sami, who worked for USAID. He received several death threats – one in the form of a blood-soaked bullet sealed in an envelope. Sami pressed on, despite the threats, in order to help improve local governments and strengthen civil society. In June 2006, a group of men armed with machine guns, attempted to kidnap his pregnant wife and two-year-old son outside their home. The attack was thwarted, but his wife nearly miscarried and their son suffered from prolonged shock. Sami and his family fled to Jordan, where they live day-to-day, waiting for the labyrinthine process to rule on their refugee case.

Our government owes these Iraqis an immense debt of gratitude. Many American employees owe their lives to these Iraqis.

Despite the clear and present danger many Iraqis face based on their ties to the United States, their religious affiliation, or their work with media, nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations, the vast majority of Iraqi refugees must go through a long and complicated referral process of approximately eight to ten months, in which the United Nations serves as an intermediary. There are no provisions for conducting refugee screenings within Iraq – as there should be.

In a recent cable, Ambassador Crocker asked the Administration to reconsider its practices. He estimates that under current practices, it would take more than two years to process the over 10,000 referrals made by the U.N. As Ambassador Crocker noted, “Clearly, this is too long. Refugees who have fled Iraq continue to be a vulnerable population while living in Jordan and Syria.”

Ambassador Crocker asked for the authority to process refugees in Iraq. He asked for the authority to provide special immigrant visas for those who have worked in good faith with our government in Iraq. He asked to expedite the processing of refugee claims to save lives. Surely, we can all agree with Ambassador Crocker that delay is unacceptable. We must clearly do better by these Iraqis who have sacrificed so much for the United States.

The amendment approved by the Senate last night will cut through the red tape. It requires the Secretary of State to establish a refugee processing program in Iraq and in countries in the region for Iraqis threatened because of their association with the United States Government. Those Iraqis who worked with our government will be able to apply directly to the United States in Iraq – rather than going through the United Nations referral system outside Iraq.

It authorizes 5,000 special immigrant visas yearly for five years for Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. Government in Iraq and are threatened as a result. It also allows Iraqis in the United States who have been denied asylum because conditions in Iraq changed after Saddam Hussein’s government fell, to have their cases re-heard.

Surely, we cannot resettle all of Iraq’s refugees in the United States, but we need to do our part. America has a special obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who now have a bulls-eye on their back because of their association with our government.

Mr. President, I had the honor of meeting Sgt. Joseph Seemiller, a young man who is haunted by the military motto, “Leave no man behind.” Sgt. Seemiller is dedicated to helping the translator he was forced to leave behind in Iraq. On countless occasions, his translator helped to avoid several American and Iraqi casualties. He braved innumerable death threats and the horrific murder of his brother, finally fleeing to Syria where he has waited for more than two years for a chance to be resettled in the U.S.

Those words haunt us all. I’m delighted that the Senate has taken this important step to honor our commitment to the brave men and women whose lives are at risk.


Anonymous said...

Could you provide a link to the actual amendment? Thanks.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

I just posted a summary of the amendment to the blog. I have a PDF of the final language, but I assume it is virtually identical to the language posted on Sen. Kennedy's website as part of the press release announcing introduction of the amendment in late Sept.

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