President’s Corner: Slow Progress on Iraqi Resettlement

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America’s allies in Iraq must think that the U.S. is inefficient, ungrateful, or both. According to the State Department’s latest figures, in August, the U.S. admitted 529 Iraqis for resettlement. That was a sharp increase from the 57 we admitted for resettlement in July, but still way off the resettlement pace the U.S. would have to achieve to meet its own goals.

In February, the State Department announced that it was prepared to process 7,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. That would have required a resettlement pace of 875 Iraqis a month on average from February to the end of September. Instead, we have resettled only 719 Iraqis so far this year.

The slow resettlement process has been particularly frustrating for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who had to flee the country after being threatened because they worked for the U.S. in such jobs as translators, purchasing agents, or drivers. Many of them believe that the U.S. is turning its back on them after they risked their lives for us.

Even U.S. officials admit that it has taken the U.S. too long to get the resettlement process going. “It has taken time, and we are the first to admit that this has been a slow, cumbersome process…,” Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration said in Amman, Jordan last week. “I have to admit my own frustration; we have not been able to move larger numbers more quickly.” Now, she says, “the pieces are in place, and over the coming months we will see a much faster movement.”

I hope she is right. Iraqis comprise the world’s fastest growing displaced population. There are more than 2.2 million Iraqi refugees, and almost as many displaced internally. Internal displacement is likely to rise faster, now that both Syria and Jordan, the two primary destinations for Iraqis, are beginning to make it more difficult for Iraqis to enter. Displacement will increase as long as violence in Iraq continues.

Although the State Department established a special task force in February to deal with Iraqi refugees, there is little sign that the administration as a whole is taking the displacement crisis seriously. Today, Iraqi displacement is a humanitarian problem. The fear is that tomorrow it could be a regional security crisis.

Even if the resettlement numbers rise sharply, only a small portion of the 2.2 million Iraqis can be resettled. We need to do much more to help Jordan, Syria and other countries absorb the refugees.

By, Ken Bacon


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