For Immediate Release
Brenda Bowser Soder
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460
US Must Refocus on Safety of Displaced Iraqis
Iraqi Refugee Act Anniversary Provides Opportunity to Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to Protecting Iraqi Refugees
WASHINGTON - Today, two years after the bipartisan Refugee Crisis in
Iraq Act became law, Human Rights First is calling for a renewed focus
on the safety and security of Iraq's refugees, including those who have
been targeted because of their work with the U.S. government, military,
non-governmental organizations and journalists.
"The United States has improved its resettlement
efforts over the last two years, but several serious unaddressed
problems continue to delay some Iraqi refugees and their families
stranded abroad in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances,'
said Human Rights First's Eleanor Acer. 'Just as troubling is the
reality that most of Iraq's refugees will not be resettled and cannot
return home given their very real security and protection concerns. The
administration must ensure that protecting the rights of Iraq's
refugees and displaced people is at the top of the U.S. foreign policy
agenda in its discussions with Iraq, Syria, Jordan and other states."
In April 2009, Human Rights First issued a report, Promises to the Persecuted: The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008,
which recommended specific reforms to ensure that Iraqi refugees –
including those who have worked with the United States or U.S. groups –
are brought to safety in a timely manner. Today, the organization
reiterated its call for the United States to implement these and other
key reforms to help ensure the protection of Iraqi refugees and
Specifically, Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to:
- Reduce processing times for Iraqi refugees who access the U.S. refugee program directly.
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 its
"circuit ride" visits to the region, so that the refugee applications
of thousands of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and their families facing danger
can be processed expeditiously.
- Improve the multi-agency security clearance process. Many
Iraqi refugees and other Iraqis who have worked for the United States
have had their applications delayed for months or longer due to delays
in the multi-agency security clearance process. The administration
should implement improvements to this process promptly, including
better coordination and additional resources to all agencies involved,
so that refugees and others who meet all of the requirements for
admission to the United Sates do not wait indefinitely – many while
facing on-going dangers in their countries of first asylum – for final
answers on their applications.
- Develop a formal system to fast-track refugee status
determinations and resettlement processing for refugees who face
imminent danger in their countries of first asylum. The
priority access afforded under the Act is available only in specific
locations and to specific populations. The United States should develop
an effective process for fast-tracking cases involving urgent
protection concerns. A wide range of individuals have been reported to
face serious threats or harm, including U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, victims
of sexual and gender-based violence, and LGBT refugees.
- Ensure that the U.S. devotes sufficient attention and priority to addressing the protection needs of Iraq's displaced people.
Human Rights First welcomed President Obama's August 2009 appointment
of Samantha Power, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human
Rights at the National Security Council, to coordinate the work of the
many U.S. agencies engaged on issues that affect Iraqi refugees and
internally displaced persons. The office of Multilateral Affairs and
Human Rights should be provided with adequate resources, including
additional staff, to facilitate effective leadership, coordination, and
consistent engagement with the Government of Iraq and the international
community on the needs of displaced Iraqis.
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The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act was first proposed in
June 2007 by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and former Senator
Gordon Smith (R-OR). It mandated Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for
Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government, military, or contractors
for at least a year; direct access to the U.S. refugee resettlement
program for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government, military,
contractors, or U.S.-based media or NGOs, and certain minority groups;
and refugee processing inside Iraq.
In Promises to the Persecuted,
Human Rights First found that, despite a Congressional mandate intended
to expedite Iraqi refugee processing times, only a small portion of
eligible Iraqis had been granted safe haven in the United States. Since
the Act became law, the United States has issued 3,064 SIVs to
U.S.-affiliated Iraqis under the Act's terms. It has issued an
additional 1,552 SIVs under a previous law, for a total of 4,616 SIVs
issued to Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government, military, or
contractors, and their families (as of September 30, 2009, the most
recent data available from the State Department).
Human Rights First has estimated that there are
approximately 146,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, including Embassy direct
hires, contractors, and employees of U.S.-based media and NGOs. This
figure does not include spouses and children. The United States has
promised to resettle 17,000 Iraqi refugees this fiscal year, and since
the war began almost seven years ago, the State Department has brought
approximately 38,000 Iraqis to safety in the United States through the
refugee resettlement program. These refugees include religious
minorities, persecuted women with children, and those who were targeted
because of their work with the U.S. government. The United Nations
refugee agency has stated that more than 53,000 vulnerable Iraqis
remain in need of resettlement.
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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.