Posted by Judy K. Warner on May 3, 2008
A representative of the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops testified before a congressional subcommittee on May 1. The group resettles 15,000 to 20,000 refugees in the U.S. each year. She recommended action in four areas:
The Administration and Congress must increase efforts to deliver basic humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees. Not only will this require the provision of more funds, but it also will require more diplomatic initiatives to ensure that the global community also contributes much needed assistance;
The Administration must step up efforts to make available resettlement opportunities for vulnerable Iraqi refugees, both in the United States and in other countries;
Special attention must be paid to extremely vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied refugee minors, women heads-of-households, and other groups;
Specific needs, such as health services (including mental health), education, and basic food and shelter, must be addressed. Protection within host countries is also deteriorating, as refugee families without formal legal status remain at risk.
This is the typical mindset of resettlement agencies. They work in the humanitarian field and see everything through that lens. Of course, there is much to agree on — we should be aiding the refugees in Syria and Jordan. But the only solutions are humanitarian ones in their eyes — resettlement or continuing aid where the refugees are now. Here is how the idea of repatriation is dealt with:
None of the families I spoke with in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Syria indicated that they thought they would ever be able to return to Iraq. Even if they do with to return, prospects do not look bright, as it is unsafe to return to Iraq anytime in the near future.
This is what the UN survey we reported on a couple of days ago indicated also. I want to know why. Last October and November refugees were returning in the tens of thousands. Did it turn out so badly for them that their fellow refugees figure they can never go home? I haven’t seen any reports of what happened to the returnees.
This idea that 90 percent of Iraqi refugees surveyed, and all of the families the testifier spoke to, thought they could never go back to Iraq, is simply not credible. It sounds like an idea that is to be planted in the minds of members of Congress and the Bush administration, and whatever public is interested. Why?
I can think of a couple of reasons. One is that it gives the resettlement agencies a huge job to do with all the government funds and expansion of the agencies that entails. It makes them very important. And it sets in cement the idea the war in Iraq is lost to chaos and terror.
I don’t think all of these NGO people necessarily think this out. But that is their mindset. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were deliberately bending the truth. Here is an indication of their mindset, given after the usual criticism of how few Iraqi refugees we have taken:
Mr. Chairman, we are capable of meeting this number [the 60,000 per year the organization is calling for], but it would require a larger commitment of diplomatic and financial resources. In fact, there is precedence in U.S. history for staging a large resettlement program for specific populations. For example, in 1975, near the end of the Vietnam War the United States resettled close to 135,000 Vietnamese refugees. During the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in 1992, at least 10,000 persons were interviewed and processed each month. These efforts helped save thousands of lives. In response to the refugee crisis in Kosovo, the United States processed and admitted over 14,000 refugees within a six-month period.
I see the parallel with Vietnam frequently. It is not a good analogy. We withdrew from Vietnam, leaving the people who had helped us to a terrible fate, as well as those who were simply on the wrong side. There was no possibility of helping them within Vietnam. But we are still fighting in Iraq, and our goal is to make the country a safe place. To adopt a policy that all of the refugees have to resettled elsewhere would be to give up our goal. There are many people who do not believe we can achieve that goal, but that is not our official government policy.
There is the further consideration that some of the refugees are our enemies. We know that many of Saddam’s supporters fled Iraq before, during and after our invasion. They are among the refugees in Syria and Jordan. Therefore vetting would-be refugees cannot be done casually or quickly. Those Kosovo refugees brought in so quickly turned out to include a number of terrorists.
The testimony is too long to cover fully here. I do want to quote part of the testimony on the Christian refugees:
Legislation enacted into law in January of 2008 makes religious minorities a special priority for resettlement in the United States, yet to date the Administration has not announced implementation of special processing for this group. Religious communities here have come forward with lists of families known to have fled Iraq, but to date the only processing available to them is either through UNHCR referral or access through lengthy and burdensome family-based procedures.
All of us hope that resettlement to a third country is not the long-term solution for the plight of religious minorities in Iraq. These ancient communities deserve the right to remain in their homeland and maintain their religious identity. The Holy See continues to urge protection for religious minorities within Iraq. There is no doubt, however, that for some, resettlement outside of the region may be their best option.
This is the only mention that I saw in the testimony of resettling people back in Iraq.
It seems to me that some coordination between refugee organizations and the Defense Department would be in order. Or whatever agency of the government is working on rebuilding in Iraq. Has anyone tried to come up with a plan for enabling Christians to return safely? Or figuring out what conditions are needed to allow large numbers of refugees to go home? I am always faulting the NGOs for emphasizing resettlement, but this is really not their fault: it is what they do. It is the government’s fault for not dealing with the refugee problem in a larger context.