Government Resettles Iraqis, but Lasting Solutions Remain a ChallengeWhile the GAO report recognizes that the United States has lagged behind its own goals for admitting Iraqis, the report does not recognize that other countries have, in fact, admitted far more refugees than the United States. Sweden has admitted over 40,000 Iraqis since March 2003 and has lobbied other Europeans countries to admit more Iraqis. Last week, Germany offered to admit 2,500 Iraqi refugees from Jordan and Syria.
The U.S. government and [the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR)] face challenges offering lasting solutions for Iraqi refugees. According to UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution, but conditions in Iraq are not yet suitable for Iraqis to return. The Iraqi government has cited improvements in security and offered financial incentives to returning families, but there is no clear trend on the number of Iraqis returning to or leaving Iraq. Difficulties renewing visas, lack of funds, and limited access to employment and public services affect Iraqis’ decisions to stay in or return to Iraq. Another solution is resettlement in the host countries, though Jordan and Syria consider Iraqi refugees “guests” who should return to Iraq once the security situation improves. Resettlement to a third country is another option, according to State. The U.S. government has made progress resettling Iraqis under its U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In 2007, the United States admitted 1,608 Iraqi refugees but did not achieve State’s expectation of admitting 2,000 to 3,000 refugees; however, the U.S. government surpassed its fiscal year 2008 goal of 12,000 with the admission of 13,823 Iraqi refugees. According to UNHCR, as of September 30, 2008, other countries resettled 5,852 Iraqi refugees in calendar years 2007 through 2008.
Admissions of Iraqis to the United States have increased each year, a laudable trend as humanitarian crises persist in Iraq. We joined over 40 NGOs in commending President Obama's promise to help Iraqis impacted by the war. Next, we must ensure that promise to vulnerable Iraqis and Iraqi refugees is fulfilled--immediately through vital foreign assistance and in the long-term through securing a peaceful and stable Iraq.