Iraqi refugees need U.S. help

The North County Times editorial, May 2, 2007

Helping our Iraqi friends

Our view: U.S. should do more to help refugees who helped our war effort and are paying for it

Among the many unfortunate side effects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been the creation of more than 2 million refugees. It is, in fact, the fastest growing refugee population in the world. While there are many reasons to flee that country, many Iraqis have been targeted after assisting American troops, diplomats and media. The United States has a moral obligation to help these people.

Until now, our country’s response to this crisis has been practically nonexistent. Since the war began in 2003, fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States. This week, however, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to allow nearly 7,000 Iraqis to resettle here by the end of September.

That number is not as impressive as it may sound. Sweden accepted more than 9,000 Iraqi refugees in 2006 and was expecting as many as 20,000 this year. Earlier this month, House Democrats introduced legislation that would allow 30,000 Iraqi refugees and “special immigrants” (i.e., translators) to resettle in the States this year and next.

Considering the scope of the problem and our unique responsibility for creating it, 7,000 is grossly insufficient. And the actual number of admitted refugees could be even smaller; resettlement experts say we will more likely welcome a mere 2,000 Iraqis through this program.

That number doesn’t even include our allies and their families still inside Iraq. These “internally displaced” people are still awaiting the protection and generosity of the country they risked their lives to help.

As it has in the past, San Diego County will play its part in finding a home for many of these refugees. Beginning in the early-1980s, the U.S. began accepting refugees from Iraq. Mostly Chaldeans, adherents of a separate rite within the Catholic Church, many settled in El Cajon. San Diego County has become home to the second-largest Chaldean community in the U.S. and the destination for 10 percent of all the Iraqis who resettled in the U.S.

Local refugee groups are already receiving applications from this anticipated wave, and estimate that the county will soon receive about 200 Iraqi refugees.

North County also figures prominently in refugee-resettlement lore; some 30,000 South Vietnamese were transported to Camp Pendleton after the fall of Saigon in 1975. About one-third of those refugees ended up staying in the area.

The Iraqis who supported our efforts are as worthy of our gratitude as were the Vietnamese three decades ago. That gratitude can best be expressed by fulfilling our promise to accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees now, and expanding it tomorrow to include all of those who live in fear because of their decision to assist our military campaign in Iraq.

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