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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. This seems unfortunately similar to some of the policies enacted by the imperial British governments in Ireland and India in the 19th century, where those who were starving had to walk at least ten miles to a workhouse or other facility to prove that they truly were destitute and starving. I guess they thought back then that it helped weed out the truly starving from the merely hungry.

  2. […] are times when James Joyner and I form a sort of blog mind meld, and here is another one (notice the Heller reference in the title). I am reasonably sure this observation will be […]

  3. Ugh says:

    This policy makes perfect sense if you want to claim you’re offering Iraqis asylum without actually having to admit any Iraqis.

    Also, admitting large #s of Iraqis would be an admission of defeat for the Decider™, and thus intolerable.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    just getting out of one’s village

    A third of Iraq’s population lives in metropolitan Baghdad. Like much of the Middle East, Iraq’s population is overwhelmingly urbanized.

    I’m not trying to trivialize the dangers. Just setting the record straight: most Iraqis aren’t villagers.

  5. Triumph says:

    This is what happens when you liberate a country full of maladroit liberals.

    You give them all sorts of welfare money, a job, and now they are saying it isn’t enough?!?!

    These people are seriously ungrateful.

  6. Triumph says:

    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

    I didn’t pick that up from the article, but I don’t see why we should make it easy for gay Iraqi’s to get visas here either. They will just tempt the Idaho Statesman into framing Larry Craig again.

  7. legion says:

    Heh. Even if they got asylum, how would they get to the US? What are the Vegas odds on dark-skinned people of arab/persian descent, and actually from Iraq being allowed to board a plane by TSA? 🙂

  8. Barry says:

    James: “…just getting out of one’s village…”

    Dave Schuler: “A third of Iraq’s population lives in
    metropolitan Baghdad. Like much of the Middle East,
    Iraq’s population is overwhelmingly urbanized.

    I’m not trying to trivialize the dangers. Just setting
    the record straight: most Iraqis aren’t villagers.”

    Google ‘baghdad+checkpoint+killing+militia’ but only if you have a strong stomach.

    Just moving a few miles in Baghdad is extremely
    dangeous: there are the shiite militias running
    checkpoints, the shiite militias running checkpoints
    in uniforms gotten from their Iraqi police fellow
    militia members, the Iraqi police who are also shiite
    militiamen running checkpoints, the Iraqi Army who are
    also shiite militiamen running checkpoints, the Iraqi
    Army guys who are sunni arab guerrillas running
    checkpoints and the sunni arab guerrillas running
    checkpoints all on their own, without pretending to be
    official (they, of course, are now Our Friends, but no
    less unpleasant).

    Oh, plus the US Army, otherwise known as people who
    don’t even speak the language, are obviously a tad bit
    paranoid, are heavily armed, and can generally get
    away with killing the odd Iraqi.

    Makes a conventional war look cozy and homey.