Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A refugee crisis caused by us

Today's front page of the NY Times describes the extreme difficulty faced by Iraqis who want to escape from their chaotic, violent country to the US. These are largely Iraqis who have worked for the American occupation and now find their lives, and that of their families, in danger. What clearer mandate for us could there be? We are commanded by Scripture to offer hospitality even to the sojourner who wanders as a result of some disturbance remote from us; what if the disturbance has been caused by us, ourselves?

Here are some excerpts from the article by Sabrina Tavernese and Robert F. Worth:
We’re not even meeting our basic obligation to the Iraqis who’ve been imperiled because they worked for the U.S. government,” said Kirk W. Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Falluja in 2005. “We could not have functioned without their hard work, and it’s shameful that we’ve nothing to offer them in their bleakest hour.”
...An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are living outside Iraq. The pace of the exodus has quickened significantly in the past nine months. Some critics say the Bush administration has been reluctant to create a significant refugee program because to do so would be tantamount to conceding failure in Iraq. They say a major change in policy could happen only as part of a broader White House shift on Iraq.
...For Iraqis, a tie to the United States is a life-threatening liability, particularly in harder-line Sunni neighborhoods. In 2003, Laith, an Army interpreter who would allow only his first name to be used, got a note threatening his family if he did not quit his job. His neighborhood, Adhamiya, was full of Baath Party loyalists. A month later, his father opened the door to a stranger, who shot him dead.
Another interpreter, Amar, who did not want his full name used, went to at least 10 embassies during a trip to Jordan last fall, but found only blank faces. He counts his sacrifice for America in bones and skin. He is missing a finger, an eye and part of his skull, after a large bomb exploded next to his Humvee last year. He has received two threats to his life. Two bodyguards accompany him everywhere. He stays in three different houses to confuse potential attackers.
“They said they have nothing for Iraqis,” said Amar, sitting in a small house in western Baghdad. “We feel just like stupid trash.”
Until recently, the administration did not appear to understand the gravity of the problem. State Department officials say they are now open to increasing the number of refugee slots the administration formally requested for Iraqis in September. That request already allows for as many as 20,000 more refugees from unspecified countries. But advocates for refugees say that such an increase is unlikely if no special measures are taken, namely designating Iraqis as a group in peril and formalizing a system for receiving them.
Iraqis who work with the military often have to live separately from their families, to avoid putting them in danger. One 25-year-old interpreter left home when his parents in Mosul, in northern Iraq, learned of his work. Now in Baghdad, he has been back home rarely.
Laith lives with an aunt, away from his wife, in an area where no one knows him. After a visit to his parents several months ago, a stranger asked about his 8-year-old brother at a boys’ school. The family fears that it was the early stages of a kidnapping. “I bring a lot of troubles when I go to visit my family,” he said...
Congress approved one program last year to help get special immigrant status for Iraqi interpreters who have worked for the United States military. Laith has tried to apply. The law, which also applies to Afghan interpreters, is capped at 50 a year. Laith was told he needed a senior officer to vouch for him, but he has not worked with one recently, and the one he had worked with is now back in the United States...

Link to article: