Final Defense Bill Commits U.S. to Helping More Iraqi Refugees
A comprehensive solution to the refugee crisis still needed.
On Friday, members of the U.S. Congress signed off on a final Department of Defense Authorization Conference Report, endorsing bipartisan provisions sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Sam Brownback (R-KS) that will make it easier for several groups of at-risk Iraqi refugees to find safe haven in the U.S. Final passage of the DoD Authorization Bill is expected this week.
Nongovernmental organizations working to protect Iraqi refugees – including Human Rights First, the International Rescue Committee, and Refugees International– welcomed the legislation as an important step towards improving the U.S. response to the refugee crisis. In particular, the bill addresses the plight of those Iraqis who face persecution because of their work with the United States, U.S. media, or U.S. nongovernmental organizations.
“This bi-partisan amendment sets an important precedent the Bush administration must follow,” said Eleanor Acer, Director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First. “Congress has affirmed that the U.S. has a direct responsibility to protect Iraqi refugees, and has cleared away bureaucratic obstacles that prevent many Iraqis from reaching safety.”
“Refugees International strongly applauds this amendment and is grateful to the senators who authored it and secured its passage. Congress’s leadership on this issue is vital to ensure that the United States protects Iraqi refugees and promotes stability in the region,” said Jake Kurtzer, Congressional Advocate at Refugees International. “We are hopeful that the Bush administration will seize this moment, expedite the resettlement process, and increase US humanitarian assistance to provide for the basic needs of all Iraqi refugees.”
The International Rescue Committee, which assists Iraqi refugees overseas and in the United States, also praised the amendment. “A comprehensive approach to the Iraqi refugee crisis is critical,” says Bob Carey, vice president of IRC resettlement programs. “The U.S. should be aiding and protecting millions of desperate and displaced Iraqis in the Middle East and offering sanctuary to the most vulnerable, including those in danger because they worked alongside Americans in Iraq. This legislation is a big step in the right direction and we look forward to its swift implementation.”
The DoD bill enacts the following provisions relating to Iraqi refugees :
• 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Iraqis who worked directly with the U.S. government and are in danger;
• Travel loans and 8 months of assistance for Iraqis with SIVs;
• Direct access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (RAP) for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government, contractors, NGOs, and media;
• Direct RAP access for designated Iraqi religious minorities with family in the United States;
• Protection or immediate removal from Iraq of SIV applicants who are in danger;
• A system that will allow Iraqi refugees to interview for resettlement in Iraq and in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt;
• New Minister Counselors in Iraq and throughout the region who will coordinate refugee processing; and
• Requirements for the Department of Homeland Security to report on plans to improve resettlement process.
The amendment also calls on the Secretary of State to provide assistance to the countries in the region hosting Iraqi refugees. With 2.5 million Iraqis outside of their country and 2.2 million internally displaced, Iraq and its neighbors urgently need multilateral and bilateral aid to help support these refugees.