Refugees Everywhere

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THE PLANK DECEMBER 11, 2006

Refugees Everywhere

A few weeks ago, George Packer argued that if and when the United States finally pulls out of Iraq, the country should offer visas to those Iraqis who collaborated with us during the occupation, seeing as how they'll all be in grave danger when we leave. As an aside, he noted that last year the United States accepted fewer than 200 Iraqi refugees (and looking around, it seems that most of those had applied for admission before the current war). Anyway, today's Boston Globe has more on this situation:

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. ...

Arthur E. "Gene" Dewey, who was President Bush's assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs until last year, said that "for political reasons the administration will discourage" the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States "because of the psychological message it would send, that it is a losing cause."

But Dewey said a tipping point has been reached that is bound to change US policy because so many refugees are convinced that they will not be able to return to Iraq. That tipping point was further weighted by Wednesday's report by the Iraq Study Group that called for the eventual withdrawal of most US forces.

Ah. The administration won't prepare for an onslaught of refugees because it still thinks it's going to "win," whatever that means--or at least doesn't want to give the impression that things are bad (because no one would figure it out otherwise.). It also seems like there's a potential battle-in-waiting with regards to Iraq's Christians, who are currently enduring "killings, torture, destruction of churches, assassination of priests, and confiscation of property." I assume that religious leaders in this country will, at some point, make a major push to have them accepted as refugees--but it would pose some rather obvious problems if the United States were to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians and shut its door to Muslims who want out.

Update: Here's another Globe piece on how massive refugee outflows from Iraq could destabilize the Middle East.

--Bradford Plumer

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