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thedrifter
05-31-07, 08:20 AM
Door to refuge widens for Iraqis
Nearly 7,000 to resettle in United States by September

May 31, 2007

BY MATTHEW LEE

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- The United States soon will begin admitting a bigger trickle of the more than 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq, acknowledging the nation never may be safe for some who have helped the United States there.

After months of delays and criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers, the Bush administration has finalized guidelines to screen Iraqi refugees, including those seeking asylum because helping the Americans has put them at huge risk.

Since the war began in 2003, fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees have been admitted, angering critics who argued the United States is obligated to assist many more, particularly those whose work for U.S. agencies or as contractors placed them in danger.

Now, under enhanced screening measures aimed at weeding out potential terrorists -- announced this week by the Department of Homeland Security -- the administration plans to let nearly 7,000 Iraqis resettle in the United States by the end of September.

An initial group of 59, including former U.S. government employees and their families, should arrive in coming weeks, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

As with incoming refugees from other countries, Iraqis accepted for resettlement will be given help from government and private agencies, including language and job training, officials said.

"America's tradition of welcoming international refugees and responding to humanitarian emergencies is unrivaled," Chertoff said in a statement. "Yet we also must be mindful of the security risks associated with admitting refugees from war-torn countries -- especially countries infiltrated by large numbers of terrorists."

Refugee advocates praised the announcement Wednesday but lamented that Iraqis have been languishing in camps in other Mideast countries.

"Obviously, DHS has a responsibility to make sure that everybody who comes into the country is going to be a good citizen ... but they also realize that the country has a responsibility to these Iraqis," said Kenneth Bacon of Refugees International.

Refugees International is a group that has been pushing the administration to accept Iraqis and noted that other countries, including some Scandinavian nations, have agreed to accept tens of thousands.

"It is embarrassing that Sweden is taking more refugees than we are," Bacon said. "The U.S. should be doing much more."

That complaint has been echoed on Capitol Hill, where the Senate and House this month passed legislation to allow a tenfold increase in special immigrant visas for Iraqis and Afghans who worked as translators and interpreters for U.S. forces.

As of May 18, the United Nations had identified 4,692 Iraqi refugees at camps in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt for possible resettlement in the United States.

Ellie