Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fleeing Iraqis Seek Refuge in the United States

It looks like the Iraq war is coming home. As I wrote in an earlier post, refugee aid organizations are saying that the current exodus of Iraqis in response to the anarchic violence in Iraq is the fastest-growing refugee population in the world; and that it's putting enormous pressures on Iraq's neighbors and on the entire region.

Now, that refugee crisis could affect the United States directly, as the Boston Globe reports in an article published online today:

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homeland are likely to seek refugee status in the United States, humanitarian groups said, putting intense pressure on the Bush administration to reexamine a policy that authorizes only 500 Iraqis to be resettled here next year.

The official US policy has been that the refugee situation is temporary and that most of the estimated 1.5 million who have fled to Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere will eventually return to Iraq. But US and international officials now acknowledge that the instability in Iraq has made it too dangerous for many refugees, especially Iraqi Christians, to return any time soon.

Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, said that while the Bush administration does not think resettlement is needed for most refugees, its policy could rapidly change.

"It is quite possible that we will in time decide that because of vulnerabilities of certain populations that resettlement is the right option," Sauerbrey said. While acknowledging that the administration originally set a quota of no more than 500 Iraqi refugees, she said the president has the legal authority to admit 20,000 additional refugees.

Eventually, specialists said, the number of Iraqi refugees settling in the United States could be vastly higher.

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