A Voice of Hope for Iraqi Refugees
Sunday, October 14, 2007
As an advocate for refugees displaced by the war in Iraq, Amelia Templeton pushes to find safe haven for those who have been targeted because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity, or because they've helped Americans. The 23-year-old Oregonian moved to Washington this year to work for Lifeline for Iraqi Refugees at Human Rights First, advocating for the 2.2 million people who have been forced to leave Iraq and the 2 million who have been displaced within the country.
Templeton began focusing on the Middle East at Swarthmore College, where she launched "War News Radio." The centerpiece of the program was interviewing Iraqi civilians coping with the tumult of war. After graduation, she saved enough money to head to Jordan and Syria to investigate the plight of refugees, many of whom had fled Iraq and were homeless and stateless.
When she arrived in the Middle East in December, she was stunned by the escalating crisis and the difficulty in arranging for refugees to come to the United States. Although the United States is authorized to accept 7,000 Iraqis this year, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says that as of Sept. 30, 1,500 Iraqis had been admitted and 4,050 were on track to come. (Last month, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, warned that there were extensive delays in the program to bring refugees to the States, though White House officials disputed some of his claims.)
Templeton has worked to raise public awareness of the refugees, first by providing research for a "60 Minutes" report, "Left Behind," that highlighted the situation, and then by lobbying Congress, the White House and the State Department.
"That's what I do," she says, "and this isn't a business; this is personal. I can't imagine losing everything. . . . They need all the help they
Why should the U.S. accept Iraqi refugees? Is there a moral obligation?
A moral and humanitarian obligation. Historically, this is a country of refugees. Talk to your parents, your grandparents; there are probably refugees in your family. This is who we are as a country and what we have always done.
Who should be allowed to enter?
Two groups. Number one, the U.S. needs its own program to take care of the people who helped us and worked with us and are desperate. Two, [we need to work] with the U.N. refugee agency. Their job is to identify the most vulnerable: That includes orphaned kids, persecuted religious minorities -- those who need resettlement the most -- and we should take the people they send us.
How would we distinguish between those in dire need and terrorists?
We have to know the difference between irrational fear and national concern. . . . The refugee program is the hardest way to get into the U.S. You have to have a face-to-face interview with a Department of Homeland Security officer, get fingerprinted; your family history is taken. There is intense scrutiny. Of all the ways a terrorist would choose to enter the country, this makes the least sense.