From War to Where? THE GUARDIAN
The resettlement of Iraqis to the US is unimpressive – but it looks good compared with the pitiful number in the UK
When I travel to Syria and Lebanon, it is to meet with Iraqi refugees, people who do not seem to greatly concern the Foreign Office. I try to assess their particular problems in the countries they fled to from war-ravaged Iraq, so as to better serve them. My organisation, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) resettled over 2,000 Iraqi refugees last year in the United States – they are our biggest "caseload".
Some 2 million Iraqi refugees are scattered worldwide, mostly in the Middle East. Until recently, only a trickle of them came to America. In the first four years after the invasion, fewer than 500 Iraqis were allowed in as refugees. After a barrage of criticism in the media and by humanitarian groups, the numbers picked up: the US financial year to September 2007 saw a total of 1,608 admissions; then in the 2008 financial year 13,823 came.
Iraqis who were employed by the US government and had to flee now have somewhere to go: thanks to senator Edward Kennedy, 5,000 special visas a year await them.
On my way back from Syria and Lebanon I stopped in the London office of IRC, but my colleagues showed little understanding of my outrage about the low numbers of refugees accepted into America. Then it dawned on me – the resettlement of Iraqis to the US actually looks good compared with the pitiful number of Iraqis resettled to the UK.
Like in the US, there are two basic ways for Iraqis to be resettled to the UK. The gateway programme allows for the admission of 750 refugees per year; 600 of those can be Iraqis. The Netherlands – six times smaller and with higher density of population than the UK, takes 500 refugees a year.
A year ago a special UK programme was started, directed mostly at Iraqi translators who served the British army or the government. This looks like it should have been tailor-made for the young man from Basra whom I met in Beirut. He served as interpreter for six months with the Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales). Well, no: the employment cycle used by the British military may be six months, but Iraqi interpreters must have "attained 12 months' or more continuous service." The man from Basra had not reached 12 months continuous service by the time he received death threats and fled Iraq.
With such narrow criteria, how does assistance for locally engaged Iraqi staff work? Frankly, it does not. As of the end of July 2008, the UK had only accepted five Iraqis under this programme. With dependents, children and babies this makes 14 individuals. Twenty nine other individuals with their dependants were "in the process of being resettled" as of 22 October according to the Immigration minister Phil Woolas.
In Iraq – where the British government, army and media continue recruiting local translators – these statistics are not readily available. One wonders how successful recruitment would be, if these numbers were known.