President Bush Signs Defense Authorization Act, Commits the U.S. to Helping More Iraqi Refugees
February 1, 2008 - On Monday, President Bush signed into law H.R.4986, the Department of Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. The DoD Act included 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.
Human Rights First welcomes the provisions, called “The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act,” as an important step toward improving the U.S. response to the refugee crisis. In particular, the act helps to address the plight of those Iraqis who face persecution because of their work with the United States, U.S. media, or U.S. nongovernmental organizations. It also calls for increased humanitarian assistance and contains other provisions to help address the refugee crisis.
“These measures are long overdue,” said Eleanor Acer, Director of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First. “The Senators and Representatives who authored and secured passage of this legislation deserve tremendous credit for their commitment to ensuring that this country lives up to its moral obligations to these refugees.
“We urge President Bush, Secretary Rice, and Secretary Chertoff to work together to implement this legislation promptly and effectively. Their leadership is critical to ensure the implementation of this legislation, as well as a more substantial U.S. response to this refugee crisis. Every day that passes leaves Iraqi refugees in increasingly difficult, and sometimes dangerous, circumstances.”
The new law enacts the following provisions relating to Iraqi refugees:
- 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) available each year for the next five years, 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;
- A system that will allow Iraqis who are in danger to apply and interview for admission to the U.S. refugee program or the SIV program, without having to leave Iraq first;
- Protection or immediate removal from Iraq of SIV applicants who are in danger;
- Allowance for requests to reopen asylum claims denied on or after March 1, 2003, when the denial was based on a change of conditions in Iraq;
- A Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and Senior Coordinators at embassies throughout the region; and
- Requirements for the President, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State to report on implementation of the bill and plans to improve the resettlement process.
The amendment also calls on the Secretary of State to provide assistance to the countries in the region hosting Iraqi refugees. With more than 2 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.