WASHINGTON, DC--Refugees International is expressed disappointment at the U.S. government's failure to meet its resettlement goals for Iraqi refugees and only allow 1,608 Iraqi refugees to resettle in the U.S. this fiscal year. On February 14, 2007, the administration promised to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees, before revising its goal down to 2,000. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has referred 11,844 Iraqi refugees in the region for resettlement in the United States.
"The U.S. should be sending a strong signal to the world that it wants to increase stability in the Middle East by addressing the refugee crisis, but instead, the U.S. is showing the world that it will only move an inch when it should be moving a mile," said Advocate Kristele Younes. "There simply cannot be a stable Iraq when millions of Iraqis are fleeing their country and host countries are unable to provide them with proper housing, food, medical care and education for their children."
Late last week, the Senate passed the "Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act," to increase resettlement of Iraqis by establishing a special P 2 category as well as a special immigrant visa for Iraqis who have been targeted because of their affiliation with the U.S. government. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), Gordon Smith (R-Ore), Sam Brownback (R-Kan), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) and a number of liberal and conservative Senators signed on to the bipartisan legislation. Currently, refugees can only be processed for resettlement once they flee the country. The new legislation addresses this issue by creating processing centers within Iraq, and by providing special coordinators to facilitate the visa process.
"The U.S. must remove the bureaucratic bottlenecks and resettle far larger numbers of Iraqis who are most vulnerable," added Younes. "Yet, we also must ensure that host countries like Jordan and Syria have the means to provide assistance to the millions of refugees in their countries. Regardless of the United States' future course in Iraq, providing for the well-being of Iraqi refugees and their host communities is essential for establishing stability in the Middle East."
More than 2.2 million people are now displaced inside the country, and an additional 2.5 million have fled to neighboring countries. Each month, as many as 100,000 Iraqis are displaced internally and 60,000 cross the border into Syria, Jordan, and other countries. Both Syria and Jordan are currently imposing restrictive visa requirements, effectively shutting their borders from further refugee flows. Many "safer" governorates inside Iraq have also closed their internal borders, unable to cope with the large influxes of displaced persons.