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The Invisible Refugees Of Iraq

The majority of the refugees are Sunni, Rosen said, and "Syria has been the most generous by far in terms of accepting refugees and also in granting them rights." Until recently, Iraqis got the same healthcare as Syrians and their children could go to school for free, he said, but now classes are overcrowded and "schools are exploding."
by Mark Maathuis
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jul 06, 2007
The displacement of Iraqi refugees -- close to 4 million -- represents the most serious crisis involving population movements in the Middle East since the exodus of Palestinians in 1948, when fleeing the creation of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands established themselves in decrepit refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as in Gaza and in the West Bank.

Yet despite their numbers, the Iraqis remain "an invisible refugee crisis," Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International, said at a Washington conference earlier this week. Roughly half of the refugees fled to safer areas within Iraq; the other half went mainly to Syria and Jordan.

The best way to stop Iraqis from fleeing is to create a safe and stable Iraq, which has been the government's main focus for the last few years.

To deal with the displacement crisis, Bacon called for more financial aid for Syria and Jordan and an increase of Iraqi refugees into the United States. Syria hosts an estimated 1.2 million refugees and Jordan has about 750,000, a recent report of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees stated. The United States has so far allowed only 750 Iraqis into the country.

The short-term goal is to relieve the burden of those and other countries and prevent them from sending Iraqi refugees home, Bacon said; something Jordan and Syria can do since neither are signatories to the U.N. Refugee Convention, which forbids contracting states to expel refugees. The long-term goal is to avoid having another refugee population that can destabilize the Middle East.

"When we think of the Iraqi refugee crisis, we should consider it the way people in the region do: through the prism of the Palestinian refugee crisis," Nir Rosen of the New America Foundation said at the news conference. After the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948, many Palestinians found refuge in the region.

In 2005, 4.4 million Palestinians were registered as refugees, according to U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The majority of the refugees are Sunni, Rosen said, and "Syria has been the most generous by far in terms of accepting refugees and also in granting them rights." Until recently, Iraqis got the same healthcare as Syrians and their children could go to school for free, he said, but now classes are overcrowded and "schools are exploding."

The Iraqi refugees weigh heavy on Jordan's economy, especially since the kingdom also hosts almost 1.9 million Palestinian refugees, according to UNWRA. Iraqi children in Jordan can only attend private schools, Rosen said.

According to recent estimates, 14,000 of the 250,000 school-aged children living in Jordan go to school, Bacon said. "What are the rest of them doing?" he asked. "What will they learn to be when they grow up?"

A more generous program is necessary to deal with this crisis, Bacon said. "The United States ought to be pumping money into Jordan and Syria," he insisted. He also called for a more thoughtful program. Poor Syrian-U.S. relations are slowing the process, because the United Nations has to mediate in the absence of any bilateral programs, he said.

Accepting more Iraqi refugees into the United States is also necessary. Fourteen percent of the Jordanian population is Iraqi, Bacon said. "If that were the case in the United States, we would have 45 million Iraqis here."

Since 2003 the United States has admitted 692 Iraqi refugees, according to the 2007 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency. In February the State Department agreed to accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

The Department of Homeland Security has developed enhanced security screening procedures for Iraqi refugees, Secretary Michael Chertoff recently said in a statement. "The new security screening procedures will facilitate our progress while ensuring that terrorists do not enter this country posing as refugees."

These procedures will frustrate the goal of accepting 7,000 refugees, according to Bacon. "We will be lucky to get a thousand. We resettled 11 in February, eight in March, one in April, one in May and 63 in June."

He acknowledged that great care should be taken but questioned the department's methodology and its target group. "The Refugee Resettlement Program is probably the last way a terrorist would try to get into the country," he said.

The interviews with the UNHCR, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, as well as the medical examinations, fingerprints and biometric ID tests, are likely to scare of any evildoer, he said.

He called for an exception of 107,000 refugees who were targeted as collaborators because they were working for American agencies in Iraq. They have taken a risk to advance our program, he said, and they "deserve special treatment from the United States."

Last month 711 Iranians versus 63 Iraqis came into the country, Bacon said. "You would have to ask yourself, who is the biggest threat to us today?" In 2006, 202 Iraqis and 2,792 Iranians entered the United States, according to an Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report.

The United States can easily accept 20,000 to 30,000 Iraqi refugees per year, Bacon said. Each year the president establishes a worldwide refugee admissions ceiling for that year. In 2007 the ceiling is set at 70,000, and fewer than 25,000 refugees have been accepted so far. "We have plenty of room in our own program," Bacon said.

Source: United Press International

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Senate Will Not Sway Bush On Iraq
Washington (UPI) June 28, 2007
Skepticism is growing among Republicans in the Senate about President Bush's strategy on Iraq, but it isn't going to have any impact on his determination to stay the course there. Newspaper reports this week stated that Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were both becoming more actively vocal in urging troop reductions in Iraq on the president.

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