Iraqi Refugees Face Catch-22
Tens of thousands of Iraqis who might qualify for asylum in the United States as refugees are unable to do so because of bureaucratic and practical obstacles, Sabrina Tavernise and David Rohde report.
Despite a stepped-up commitment from the United States to take in Iraqis who are in danger because they worked for the American government and military, very few are signing up to go, resettlement officials say. The reason, Iraqis say, is that they are not allowed to apply in Iraq, requiring them to make a costly and uncertain journey to countries like Syria or Jordan, where they may be turned away by border officials already overwhelmed by fleeing Iraqis.
[T]he administration has set up a special program for a small number of Iraqis, which gives preferential treatment to full-time employees of the American Embassy, about 125 in Baghdad, and to 500 interpreters by allowing them to skip the lengthy United Nations refugee process once they leave Iraq. But thousands more Iraqis work for the United States through contractors like Titan, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications; DynCorp International; Parsons Corporation; and Triple Canopy, and their subcontractors.
In all, 69,000 Iraqis work on contracts with the Department of Defense through Iraqi and foreign companies, according to the American military. They are cleaners, construction workers, drivers and security guards, to name a few, and though they face the same reprisals as anyone working more directly with the American government they do not fall into the special category.
A spokesman for the United States Embassy here said all Iraqis who had worked for the United States would have their refugee applications sped up once they fled Iraq and reached neighboring countries like Jordan or Syria. “The big question mark is for those who can’t reach us here,” said Rafiq A. Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration in Amman, Jordan. The United States has processed large numbers of refugees in countries they were trying to flee, namely Vietnam in the 1970s and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and it could also do it in Iraq, Mr. Tschannen said, where the embassy is one of America’s largest in the world.
Obviously, travel is incredibly difficult for people who live in a war-torn country. Besides the real problems in crossing international borders, just getting out of one’s village requires facing mortal danger. Surely, a less absurd system could be put into place for processing requests.
UPDATE: John Cole and I are apparently having a “mind meld.” We do, however, differ somewhat on the issue of whether it should be illegal to stalk people for sex in public restrooms and whether right-wing bloggers are being hypocritical on the issue (Cole vs. Joyner here and here), so it’s still necessary to read both sites to get a wide range of views on the important news of the day.