Throughout this political season, as the candidates debate and discuss their future strategies regarding the Iraq war, very little has been discussed about how they plan on dealing with the more than 4.4 million Iraqis who are now displaced because of the war. The Iraqi refugee crisis is now the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, and experts predict that the number of displaced Iraqis will reach 5 million by the end of the year.
Exactly one year ago, the US government set a goal to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of FY 2007. It is exactly one year later and only a paltry 1,608 refugees were actually admitted with no explanation from the Bush administration as to why so few. In contrast, Sweden, which played no part in the Iraq war, welcomed nearly 20,000 into the country last year.
These statistics hit home even more when you consider that tens of thousands of Iraqis seeking refuge in the United States are doing so precisely because they helped our own troops. These American-affiliated Iraqis, among the best and brightest in Iraq, have loyally served the U.S. as translators, security personnel and as participants in the reconstruction effort. They did so, and continue to do so, despite the harsh reality that insurgents could, at any moment, kill them and their families for assisting the "enemy."
Over the weekend I met with Kirk W. Johnson, a former US AID worker in Iraq who has spearheaded the effort to get these American-affiliated Iraqis into the United States. His organization, called The List Project, literally maintains a list of Iraqis whose lives have been threatened. Of the nearly 1,000 Iraqi names Johnson has accumulated on this list, only 25 have been allowed into the U.S..
In the attempt to help alleviate this refugee problem and to help restore our image in Iraq, it seems natural that the administration would at the very least begin by granting asylum to those Iraqis who have put their lives at risk to help U.S. forces. First of all, this is smart politics. If our government is ignoring the very people who risk their lives to help us, who is to say that anyone will be willing to stand by our side in the future? This is also a matter of stability. How can Iraqi society be expected to heal when millions of their citizens are fleeing and struggling to survive in neighboring countries?
But essentially, the bigger issue boils down to responsibility. Whether you deem our invasion of Iraq a success or a failure, one thing is for sure: it has resulted in a dramatic overhaul of the daily lives of millions of Iraqi men, women and children. We will be judged, both by Iraqis and by the international community, on how our next administration will confront this refugee crisis, a crisis that resonates on a very basic, humane level.
-Mona Lisa Mouallem, 360° Staff
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