As Iraq Withdrawal Nears, Will Refugees Be Left Behind?

By Ruthie Epstein, Researcher & Advocate, Refugee Protection Program

On Tuesday, the U.S. military said that the number of troops in Iraq fell below 50,000, in line with President Obama’s promise to end the U.S. combat mission by August 31. As media and public attention shift from Iraq, the Obama administration must not abandon its obligation to lead the way in finding solutions for Iraqis displaced by the war – now numbering up to 2 million. It’s not only the morally responsible thing to do, given the U.S. role in the war, but it’s also strategically smart – to support stability in the region, and as U.S. engagement in Afghanistan increases and the U.S. seeks allies and supporters in the region.

Many Iraqi refugees cannot return safely to Iraq. The administration must maintain its commitment to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees – including those Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government, military, contractors, and U.S.-based NGOs and media organizations, and their families.

Human Rights First has also uncovered several significant gaps in the U.S. refugee resettlement system that adversely affect Iraqis and other refugees across the world. In July, in written testimony submitted for the record to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we outlined reforms that would better protect refugees in need of resettlement – including establishment of a transparent and formal expedited procedure for refugees who face an imminent risk of harm in countries of first asylum; implementation of measures to increase transparency within resettlement processing; and improvements in the staffing, coordination and timeliness of the security clearance process for refugees and other immigrants. We’ll be releasing a full report on these issues later this fall.

The U.S. State Department and other agencies have begun to meet with Human Rights First and other civil society groups to discuss challenges related to expedited resettlement of refugees who face imminent risks of harm. Next month, the Department of State and Congress will hold their annual consultations on the U.S. refugee program. We hope to hear positive news from the State Department at that time – a public commitment to the development of a formalized expedited resettlement program for at-risk refugees, and steps toward other critical reforms of the resettlement system.

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Published on August 26, 2010

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