March 13, 2008

Displaced Iraqis update and neocon delays


Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and host countries

Concern over Iraqi refugees' resettlement

by Nicole Kallmeyer
Mar 12, 2008

WASHINGTON -- There is no simple way to reconcile two of America’s most complicated issues: the war in Iraq and immigration.

Over the last year, Congress added $150 million to refugee assistance, and increased the number of Special Immigrant Visas available to Iraqis who risked their lives to help the U.S.

But on Tuesday, Rep. Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, called a hearing to express his concern over the sluggish pace at which the Bush administration is admitting refugees to the U.S.

During the last 17 months, 3,484 Iraqi refugees have been resettled, the New York Democrat said. More refugees have come to the U.S. in the last five months than in the previous 12, when just over 1,600 were processed.

The administration would have to triple the number of refugees processed each month in order to meet its goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqis this year.

“We’ve helped to create a mess,” Ackerman said. “At best we should help clean up our mess; we owe it to these people if nothing else.”

Lori Scialabba, the associate director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ refugee and asylum operations, predicted that increased efforts by Immigraton and the State Department will enable 12,000 Iraqis to enter the U.S. by Sept. 30 – the close of the 2008 fiscal year.

The average processing time for Iraqi immigration cases is “significantly less” than that for other refugee groups, who usually wait eight to ten months, Scialabba said. But processing times can stretch out due to the many steps involved, such as registration, background checks and interviews.

“How long does an interview take?” asked Rep. Ackerman.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, resident Ford relocated 160,000 refugees, Ackerman said. “Did he have some magic formula?”

James Foley, State Department coordinator for Iraqi refugee issues, said the government has been unable to deal with refugees inside Iraq, forcing displaced Iraqis to cross the border into countries such as Syria or Jordan before getting the attention of U.S. immigration officials.

Now that the security situation in Iraq has improved, Foley said, the State Department intends to scale up processing within the country.

But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said efforts to accelerate Iraqi refugee cases should not be augmented.

“The fact is that now is the time that we should be calling on refugees from Iraq to go home,” he said. Educated, pro-democracy Iraqis are needed in Iraq, Rohrabacher said, to help rebuild the country.

Rohrabacher said he was disappointed in the limited assistance from “oil rich” countries near Iraq, such as Saudi Arabia.

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., agreed that some surrounding Arab countries have not made much effort to help displaced Iraqis, but said that they did not invade Iraq in the first place.

It’s the Pottery Barn rule, he said, “you break it, you own it.”

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