By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 13, 2008
The United States plans to take in a minimum of 17,000 Iraqis over the next 12 months under its refugee program, and an additional 5,000 under a special visa program for Iraqis who formerly worked for the U.S. military and embassy or their contractors, a State Department official said yesterday.
In announcing that the government had reached its goal of 12,000 Iraqi refugees for this fiscal year, Ambassador James B. Foley, the secretary of state's special coordinator for refugees, told reporters that he expected to exceed that total in the coming year.
"I think you'll see the U.S. government admitting over the course of fiscal 2009 tens of thousands of Iraqis," Foley said.
Advocacy groups were not satisfied with the new goal. Noting that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that 90,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries are seeking resettlement, said Kristele Younes of Refugees International, "The U.S. certainly met its goal for this year, but next year's target of resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees falls far short of what is needed."
Foley said that in the coming year, he expects that most of the refugees coming to the United States -- who are approved to do so because they face threats if they return to their homes -- will come from Syria rather than Jordan. He also said he expects about 2,500 to 3,000 will come from Baghdad.
Most of the nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees outside the country want to return home when it is safe and secure for them to do so, Foley said. He also repeated criticism about the Iraqi government not playing a role either in establishing a plan for resettlement of the refugees or providing support for those outside the country.
"The Iraqi government's unwillingness thus far to significantly share the international burden of assisting refugees would become more understandable if it were undertaking a serious and credible effort to prepare for large-scale returns," Foley said.