Walleser Guest Editorial on Imperilled US Allies among the 4 Million Iraqi Refugees

ON MERCY AND REDRESS

Matthew Walleser

There have been over four million Iraqis displaced because of the war and its effects, both inside and outside Iraq. They have fled to destinations that span the far reaches of the globe, from Jordan to Sweden, and many places in between. Some of those who have fled have at some point worked for the United States government in its war efforts. They have been translators and interpreters, who have helped our soldiers and provided or relayed information that no doubt saved many lives. They have been forced to flee because of death threats to themselves and to their families. They have been tortured by insurgents and have also been betrayed by the U.S. government.

In 2006, a former USAID employee, Kirk Johnson, created The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. The effort now has its own blog and the issue was profiled by George Packer at the New Yorker. Johnson began compiling a list of Iraqi friends and colleagues he had worked with in Iraq. The List has since grown to immense proportions, filled with others who have worked for the government and feel that they have nowhere to turn but to him. The List now is comprised of an enormous ring binder, of which names are added to every day, the result of a constant bombardment of emails and calls for help.

The State Department has pledged to help bring some Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. government to the United States. But these efforts are mired in a bureaucratic system so slow it cannot keep up with itself. The number of refugees that the U.S. has promised to bring in is far, far fewer than those who actually make it to our shores.

It is nothing less than tragic that in the last fiscal year, Sweden has taken in almost ten times as many Iraqi refugees as the United States. Indeed many nations are carrying a burden which they in all honestly cannot afford to carry. An example is Jordan, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees reside. Mounting prices are taxing the economy and its people, and refugees are having the hardest time of it. Until Iraq becomes stable enough to allow those Iraqis that helped the U.S. return to livable and sustainable conditions, the State Department, and the U.S. government have an obligation and a duty to give them safe haven and asylum within the United States, as well as to look after their wellbeing.

Many say that this is an impossible undertaking. But it has been done before by the United States, and is being done now by Great Britain. In 1996 the United States instituted Operation Pacific Haven, where they airlifted around 6000 Iraqis, mostly Kurds, to the American territory of Guam. It was there that they went through the administrative procedures of being allowed into United States, and most if not all were there by the next year. Now the British have initiated their own “Guam Option,” allowing for up to 1500 Iraqis who have helped them in Iraq to be offered safe haven in Britain, where they will be able to start their lives anew under the government’s aid and supervision.

This is what has to be done by our government in this great time of need for Iraqi refugees which helped out the U.S. and are now at the end of their ropes. They have few options left and few places to turn. The U.S. government has the capacity and the funds to carry out this operation. The only matter left to contemplate is whether it has the compassion to do so. No matter what you think about the war and its discontents, this is not about politics. It is about helping fellow human beings who put their lives on the line and have yet to be repaid in full. It is time for our government to step up to the plate.

Please write your congressional representatives and senators and plead that the US do the right thing here.

Matthew Walleser

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