Evacuating Iraqi Refugees
A front page story in yesterday’s Washington Post has highlighted the need to make plans for evacuating Iraqis if and when we withdraw American forces.
The American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan C. Crocker, has asked the Bush administration to take the unusual step of granting immigrant visas to all Iraqis employed by the U.S. government in Iraq because of growing concern that they will quit and flee the country if they cannot be assured eventual safe passage to the United States.
“Our [Iraqi staff members] work under extremely difficult conditions, and are targets for violence including murder and kidnapping,” Crocker wrote Undersecretary of State Henrietta H. Fore. “Unless they know that there is some hope of an [immigrant visa] in the future, many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets.”
The story cites “fears that terrorists may infiltrate through refugee channels” as the major obstacle but there are others. Regardless, deciding whom to grant asylum to will not be easy.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that about 2 million Iraqis have been displaced inside the country so far, and that an estimated 2.2 million others have fled to Syria, Jordan and other neighbors, where they threaten to overwhelm schools and housing, destabilize host governments and provide a recruiting ground for radical unrest. Each month, an additional 60,000 Iraqis flee their homes, the U.N. agency said.
Overall estimates of the number of Iraqis who may be targeted as collaborators because of their work for U.S., coalition or foreign reconstruction groups are as high as 110,000. The U.N. refugee agency has estimated that 20,000 Iraqi refugees need permanent resettlement.
Fester hopes that a “large, broad, bipartisan base of support” rallies to create pressure to make this happen and “that we have a moral obligation to help those who have risked so much to help us.”
Of course, many argue that’s why we shouldn’t leave Iraq and abandon its people to the thugs. Certainly, tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis have risked something in siding with us against the local militias. One can argue that the “translators, intepretors, construction program managers, laundry women, truck drivers and cooks” under our direct employ risked more, I suppose, but what about the people who signed up for work in the Iraqi security forces despite knowing merely standing in line to do so made them a target for the terrorists? Where do we draw the line?
I’m inclined to do so generously, given our role in creating the mess. But that raises another question: does sponsoring an exodus of skilled people from Iraq merely compound our error? How can Iraq rebuild itself without these people?