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Making Progress On Iraqi Refugees

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By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
February 15, 2007

Yesterday the U.S. Department of State announced that up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees will be permitted to enter the United States. Only 202 Iraqis were allowed in last year. Only about 400 Iraqi and Afghani refugees entered the United States before 2006.

The United States also said it will immediately contribute $18 million for a worldwide resettlement and relief program. The United Nations has asked for $60 million from nations around the world.

This is a big step in the right direction.

America must act in behalf of these people for humanitarian reasons. But we are acting not just to provide shelter and food. We are acting to save lives and avoid torture.

Background: Vietnam

When the Vietnam War ended and Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese feared for their lives. Many had assisted the United States in many ways, great or small, and they knew there would be retribution from the Communists.

A hemorrhage of people began to flow into the South China Sea in small, un-seaworthy boats. Many were lost at sea or killed or othewise abused by pirates.

Many members of Congress were ready to turn their backs on the refugees from Vietnam.

But Senator Ted Kennedy knew many of these people had helped the United States as soldiers, diplomats, clerks, typists and drivers. It didn't matter one's station in life: when the Communists came if you helped the United States you were going into re-education.

I've spoken to many re-education survivors: the lucky ones. Some spent 5, 8, 10, 12 years detained. Some never recovered as contributing members of society. Some, like Fong, my wife's brother, went into detention and was never seen or heard from again.

In 1975, Senator Kennedy, working with President Ford and many members of the House and Senate, crafted the legislation that allowed the United States to rescue, feed and house thousands of Vietnamese refugees. Today they are a thriving community of immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants contributing to the American economy, society and way of life.

Iraqi Refugee Dilemma

Although the United Nations estimates that 3.8 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the war began nearly four years ago, few have made it here to the United States. Meanwhile, Iraq's neighboring nations are virtually awash in Iraqi refugees.

Some 2 million Iraqis have left their country, and an additional 1.8 million are thought to have relocated inside Iraq. The refugee flow has increased sharply as sectarian violence has increased over the past year.

On December 30, 2006, in a Washington Post commentary essay, Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA) made the case for Iraqi war refugees.

"It is essential that we also reflect on another human cost of the war - the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children who have fled their homes and often their country to escape the violence of a nation increasingly at war with itself."

"The refugees are witnesses to the cruelty that stains our age, and they cannot be overlooked."

"America bears heavy responsibility for their plight. We have a clear obligation to stop ignoring it and help chart a sensible course to ease the refugee crisis. Time is not on our side. We must act quickly and effectively."

Senator Kennedy estimated the number of refugees that needed assistance.

"Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon. Typically they are not living in refugee camps but have relocated in urban areas, where they must draw on their own meager resources to pay for food and shelter, and must depend on the good graces of the host governments."

On January 16, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees, held hearings to delve into the Iraqi and Afghani refugee issue. Senator Kennedy again took a leading role.

Yesterday's announcement is not the end of this issue but a giant step in the right direction toward resolution of the Iraqi refugee dilemma.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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