Refugee Scandal - The Wall Street Journal
Every day Iraqi civilians are killed on the streets and in their homes by insurgents. And many of them are targeted for a simple reason: They have either worked for or have some other connection to the U.S. government. As a matter of policy the U.S. has officially opened the door for many of these civilians by offering them refugee status here.
But in practice that door has been effectively closed. This became increasingly clear recently when the State Department revealed how many Iraqi refugees were allowed into the U.S. during the month of May. That count stands at precisely one. In April, the U.S. also admitted just a single Iraqi refugee.
Meanwhile from Baghdad, at nearly the same time that the State Department was releasing its May figures, came ominous news. Two Iraqis -- a husband and wife team -- who worked for the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were killed. A statement on the Internet made clear why: "The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State in Iraq . . . are with God's grace slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys."
Following a barrage of criticism in the media and on Capitol Hill, in February the Bush administration announced that up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees would be allowed to enter the country this year. There is, of course, a backlog of Iraqi refugees waiting to be admitted to the U.S. So the administration might have quickly increased the number of new refugees admitted. But the number actually fell from 11 in February to just eight in March.
The Department of Homeland Security -- which has recently received the files of 611 Iraqis waiting to be processed -- announced on May 29 that it "is poised to approve the applications of nearly 60 Iraqis." But even these numbers are disappointing. It turns out that DHS is promising to expedite just 20 cases for a total of 59 people (refugees plus their families).
Set aside whether DHS will actually deliver on this promise and the numbers are still bleak. Just 70 Iraqis have gained entrance into the country over the past eight months. Do the math. There are 6,930 applications left to grant between now and the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. DHS must pick up the pace.
Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky recently wrote on these pages that people such as the couple killed in Baghdad "served the cause of freedom with dedication and honor. They saved countless American and Iraqi lives and, because of this, are often targeted by insurgents." She is exactly right.
Among the Iraqi refugees I met in the Middle East earlier this year, many worked for U.S. military or American companies. They had great letters of commendation from their former American bosses and great hopes to be among the 7,000 admitted to the country.
In Istanbul, a father of two small boys showed me medals and diplomas from the U.S. military, for which he worked as an interpreter. In Damascus, a Mandaean Christian told me how close he was to dying when the U.N. headquarters was attacked while he was a security guard there. In Amman, a technician who used to install satellite dishes for GIs showed me a death threat and told me his brother had been killed. And in Beirut, a former soldier of the Free Iraqi Forces told me that he's terrified that local Islamic militias will learn that he served as an intelligence officer for the Americans and will capture and torture him. He asked me to help him hide his U.S.-issued ID, which authorized him to carry an AK-47, a pistol and a satellite phone.
The lives of these men and their families are now in shambles because of their previous service to the U.S., and none of them has been told they're on the short list to be let into the country. And even if they were, even if 7,000 Iraqis were admitted by the end of September, this would still be very few. The administration could have authorized more than three times as many admissions -- for 2007 it had 20,000 slots for refugees (out of a total of 70,000) that were not allocated to any geographical area, plus 5,000 allocated specifically for the Middle East.
In the first eight months after the end of the Vietnam War, at the direction of President Gerald Ford, the U.S. government and the U.S. armed forces facilitated the movement to the United States of over 131,000 South Vietnamese refugees. Some would say there are too many differences to compare Iraq to Vietnam, but similar exoduses have happened before. Hungarians fleeing Soviet tanks in 1956 and Cubans escaping from Fidel Castro in 1959 came in droves. More recently, Bosnians running from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans came in larger numbers than we are now allowing for Iraqis.
So when Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff says that "America's tradition of welcoming international refugees . . . is unrivaled" he may be right historically speaking. Nowadays, however, what is unrivaled is the abyss between his rhetoric and the admissions granted by his department, and this makes it harder for America to win its battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East.
Ms. Husarska is senior policy adviser at the International Rescue Committee.