The United States will accelerate the resettlement of about 7,000 Iraqis referred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and will contribute $18 million to the agency’s appeal for Iraq, about one-third of the total, Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky said Wednesday.
Plans call for the paperwork allowing the Iraqis to enter the United States to be completed by the end of September, said Dobriansky, appearing at a news conference in Washington with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, and Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey.
The 7,000 have left Iraq and are waiting in third countries, such as Jordan and Syria. A U.S. team is scheduled to go to Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 26 to begin processing them. Department of Homeland Security officials will conduct interviews, followed by health screenings.
Dobriansky said the Bush administration is working with Congress to develop legislation to allow in other Iraqis who are at special risk in Iraq because of their close association with the U.S. government. As violence there continues unabated, about 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, while 1.7 million are displaced inside Iraq, according to the United Nations. Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group, has called the swelling migration “the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.”
In an interview, Sauerbrey said that from 2003 to last September, a total of 466 Iraqis were resettled in the United States as refugees, 202 of them in the last fiscal year. “People ask, ‘Why weren’t there more?’ “ she said. “Until last year, we were resettling people back to Iraq. People wanted to go home.”
Dobriansky said Washington would fully support a conference by the U.N. refugee agency to be held in Geneva in April to secure pledges from international donors. The $18 million U.S. pledge to the agency will be in addition to more than $76 million it has provided for worldwide operations over the last four years.
Guterres said that the 7,000 refugees to be resettled in the United States would be the first of 20,000 who will eventually be resettled in third countries.