Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Another page in our national disgrace

January 2, 2007
Few Iraqis Are Gaining U.S. Sanctuary

BAGHDAD, Jan. 1 — With thousands of Iraqis desperately fleeing this country every day, advocates for refugees, and even some American officials, say there is an urgent need to allow more Iraqi refugees into the United States.

Until recently the Bush administration had planned to resettle just 500 Iraqis this year, a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who are now believed to be fleeing their country each month. State Department officials say they are open to admitting larger numbers, but are limited by a cumbersome and poorly financed United Nations referral system.

“We’re not even meeting our basic obligation to the Iraqis who’ve been imperiled because they worked for the U.S. government,” said Kirk W. Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Falluja in 2005. “We could not have functioned without their hard work, and it’s shameful that we’ve nothing to offer them in their bleakest hour.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who is taking over the immigration, border security and refugee subcommittee, plans hearings this month on America’s responsibility to help vulnerable Iraqis. An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are living outside Iraq. The pace of the exodus has quickened significantly in the past nine months.

Some critics say the Bush administration has been reluctant to create a significant refugee program because to do so would be tantamount to conceding failure in Iraq. They say a major change in policy could happen only as part of a broader White House shift on Iraq.

“I don’t know of anyone inside the administration who sees this as a priority area,” said Lavinia Limón, president of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nongovernmental refugee resettlement agency based in Washington. “If you think you’re winning, you think they’re going to go back soon.”

For Iraqis, a tie to the United States is a life-threatening liability, particularly in harder-line Sunni neighborhoods. In 2003, Laith, an Army interpreter who would allow only his first name to be used, got a note threatening his family if he did not quit his job. His neighborhood, Adhamiya, was full of Baath Party loyalists. A month later, his father opened the door to a stranger, who shot him dead.

Continued at this article in the NY Times today.

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