International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Ten years after U.S. invasion, Iraq refugee crisis continues

Iraqis who fear for their lives urgently need protection

NEW YORK 07 Mar 2013 - On the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, Iraqis who risked their lives to protect and assist the U.S. military and civilian administrators are unable to leave the country because of inefficiencies in the visa program that was created to protect them, the International Rescue Committee said today.  Worse, the IRC added, the Special Immigrant Visa program is set to expire this September even though it has not come close to fulfilling its obligations.

“Many Iraqi men and women who literally put their lives on the line to support U.S. troops in Iraq are living in peril,” said Bob Carey, IRC vice president for resettlement and migration policy. “The visa program must continue and it must be improved.”
 
The Special Immigrant Visa program was established in 2008 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.  It sanctioned 5,000 visas to be issued annually for five years to Iraqis who served the U.S. government in Iraq.  As a result of their work for the U.S., these Iraqis have been targeted by some of their countrymen.  They and their family members have been subjected to frequent threats and violence and an untold number have been kidnapped or killed.  The threats have continued even after U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011.  Unfortunately, because of bureaucratic inefficiencies in the vetting process, only 5,500 of the allotted 25,000 visas have been issued, and the safety of thousands of Iraqis remains precarious. 
 
In addition, funding for the federal refugee program that assists Iraqis when they come to the U.S. is being stretched to the maximum.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement, whose primary role is to assist newly arrived refugees, warns that it faces a $90 million dollar shortfall this year.  Vital services designed to put refugees on their feet as quickly as possible, along with funding to states to support their refugee programs, could well be affected.
 
The war in Iraq created an immense humanitarian crisis in the Middle East as refugees from Iraq poured into neighboring countries.  Thousands of these Iraqis have applied for refugee status in the U.S. and are among the largest group of people seeking sanctuary here.  Just over 20 percent of the 58,238 refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2012 were from Iraq.
 
 “The responsibility of the United States to the Iraqi people did not end with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” Carey said.  “As President Obama put it when he was a presidential candidate, the United States has a ‘moral obligation’ to the Iraqi people.  For those seeking sanctuary in the United States, we must ensure that we give them the tools they need to re-start their lives.”
 
The International Rescue Committee urges the following:
  1. The President must ask for an extension of the Special Immigrant Visa program beyond September and fulfill the obligations set out in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, and Congress should quickly extend the law.
  2. The Special Immigrant Visa program must be streamlined and strengthened to ensure that Iraqis who are in harm’s way have their pending applications processed expeditiously. The Administration must therefore work to clear the backlog of pending cases.
  3. The Administration and Congress must continue to support a robust refugee resettlement program.  Additional resources are urgently needed to ensure that the Office of Refugee Resettlement can provide refugees, recipients of Special Immigrant Visas and other vulnerable populations under its care with the tools they need to re-start their lives.  Refugees are determined to succeed when they come to the U.S.  The initial support they receive from the federal government is crucial to ensure that they can live safe, productive lives and contribute to their new communities.
 
Note to Editors: For more information or to arrange interviews with IRC staff or Iraqi refugees in the United States, please contact Lucy Carrigan, o: 212 551-0969, c: 917 859-3086, e: lucy.carrigan@rescue.org.  For additional updates on this issue, please follow @IRCPress
 

Learn More

Read the IRC's special report, Iraqis in Crisis, at Rescue.org/iraqi-refugees