For Immediate Release: October 2, 2009
Rights group says additional measures needed to protect at-risk Iraqis
New York City – Human Rights First welcomes the U.S. announcement that it has met its goal of resettling 17,000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees by September 30 and calls on the United States to devote additional attention and resources to resolving a number of key issues.
“The U.S. has made significant strides in its efforts to bring vulnerable Iraqi refugees to safety. Even so, additional steps are necessary to address remaining impediments that delay the timely resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees, including Iraqis who have been targeted because of their work with the United States or with U.S. groups,” said Ruthie Epstein, Researcher and Advocate at Human Rights First.
A year ago, the United States set a target of resettling 17,000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees during its 2009 fiscal year, and when that year ended this week (on September 30), it had met – and exceeded – that goal by resettling 18,833 Iraqi refugees. These refugees – who now live in safety in the United States – include religious and ethnic minorities, survivors of torture, and Iraqis who faced danger inside Iraq due to their work with the United States or U.S. groups, and their families.
Earlier this year, Human Rights First issued Promises to the Persecuted: The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008, a report that identified some of the impediments that continue to undermine the effectiveness of the resettlement effort and outlined necessary reform measures. Specifically:
- Improve the Security Clearance Process: The White House should review, improve, and devote additional resources to the multi-agency security clearance process, so that the applications of refugees and others who meet all of the requirements for admission to the United States are not delayed for lengthy periods of time – at present, up to a year or more;
- Reduce Processing Times: The State Department should increase staffing at the Embassy in Baghdad and the International Organization of Migration, and the Department of Homeland Security should increase the frequency and staffing of circuit rides to the region, so that the refugee applications of thousands of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and their families facing danger can be processed expeditiously;
- Ensure Post-Arrival Services: Congress, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services should continue to work to improve post-arrival services – including basic housing, health care, and job search assistance – for Iraqi refugees and other new refugee populations to whom the United States has offered safety from persecution.
Looking forward, Human Rights First urges the United States to set a specific target for its resettlement of Iraqi refugees over the next year to ensure that the multi-step multi-agency process stays on track, to demonstrate to the international community its ongoing commitment to address the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the war in Iraq, and to encourage other countries to increase their own efforts to protect the most vulnerable Iraqis. The UN refugee agency estimates that 53,183 Iraqi refugees in the Middle East and Turkey are in need of resettlement.
While only a small proportion of vulnerable Iraqi refugees will be relocated to safety through resettlement, the majority of the 3 million displaced Iraqis will remain in the region. “As the U.S. military disengages from Iraq, it is more important than ever that the United Sates government develop a comprehensive plan for addressing this displacement crisis,” said Eleanor Acer, Director of Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection Program. “Not only does this country have a moral obligation to address the plight of Iraq’s displaced people, but it is also in the strategic interests of the United States to do so..”