Despite the U.S. government’s goal of bringing 12,000 Iraqi refugees to this country in fiscal year 2008, people involved with refugee resettlement locally and nationally see that as unlikely to happen.
“They are going to have to increase their rate of intake very substantially in order to meet that level, because it has been going very slow in the first few months of this year,” said Kathleen Newland, director of the refugee program at the Migration Policy Institute.
Anne Curtis, director of Bridge Refugee Services of Chattanooga, said some Iraqis have resettled in Chattanooga, but they arrived before 1996.
“It seemed last spring there was a big buzz about it (Iraqi refugees), but we still don’t know anything specific,” she said.
Ambassador James Foley, senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues, said 375 Iraqi refugees arrived in the United States in January, bringing the total for this fiscal year to 1,432.
“Since the program started last year, 3,040 Iraqis have arrived in the U.S. as refugees. Others have come in under different immigrant visas,” Mr. Foley said during a briefing on the Iraqi Refugee and Special Immigrant Visa Admissions programs earlier this month.
To meet the goal of 12,000 resettlements, the government would have to resettle 10,568 Iraqi refugees between now and the end of the fiscal year in September, figures show.
“(Iraqi resettlement) is very much up in the air,” said Marilyn Bresnan, executive director of Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services in Knoxville. “We are already trying to make some contact within the (Iraqi) community to help resettle”
An Iraqi family that is supposed to settle in East Tennessee has been delayed since November 2007, according to Bridge Refugee officials.
Ms. Newland called the effort “woefully inadequate.”
“I find it quite difficult to explain and really kind of shocking that with as many displaced people within Iraq and over 2 million refugees outside ... that the U.S. government last year spent only something like $200 million” on resettlements, Ms. Newland said.
Rob McInturff, spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said the government has been building resettlement capacity overseas for the last couple of years and has had problems with countries such as Syria.
“One of the reasons the numbers have been low is because we don’t have the capacity on the ground to handle everything,” he said.
Mr. McInturff said the government believes resettlement figures will accelerate through the year.
Ambassador Foley said he does not accept the premise that the current numbers are a sign of deficiency.
“They are a sign of a complicated, multipartner effort that required time to get (operating) and for its capacity to expand,” he said at the briefing.
But Ms. Newland said it is hard to explain how Sweden, which is not involved in the war, gave asylum to 30,000 Iraqis last year when the United States managed to resettle about 1,000.
The U.S. government really “needs to do something to break through this logjam that is preventing them (from filling up) the pipeline adequately,” Ms. Newland said.
Ms. Bresnan said she would not be surprised if all of a sudden Bridge Refugee Services received a significant number of Iraqi refugees.
“There are particular countries that all of a sudden open the gates. ... So right now (I) feel the next group will be coming from Iraq because the numbers are so high,” she said. “There’s no question that there are Iraqi refugees that need to be resettled.”
* During fiscal year 2007, 1,608 Iraqi refugees arrived in the U.S. for permanent resettlement.
* The U.S. government has increased humanitarian assistance for Iraqis from $43 million in 2006 to almost $200 million in 2007.
* The U.S. government contributed $39 million to the $130 million United Nations Education appeal, which aims to enroll an additional 150,000 Iraqi children in Jordanian and Syrian schools.
* The Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services has completed interviews with about 6,000 Iraqis to date.
* The U.S. government is aiming to admit as many as 12,000 Iraqi refugees during the current fiscal year (October 1, 2007 — September 30, 2008).
Source: U.S. Department of State
Countries of origin for refugees who arrived in the U.S. in fiscal 2006:
* Former Soviet Union: 10,426, or 25.26 percent of all refugees
* Somalia: 10,357, or 25.09 percent
* Vietnam: 3,168, or 7.67 percent
* Cuba: 3,143, or 7.61 percent
* Iran: 2,792, or 6.76 percent
* Iraq: 202, or 0.49 percent
Source: Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2008 Report to Congress
Refugee resettlements in Tennessee:
* Fiscal year 2006: 869
* Fiscal year 2007: 1,035
* October-December of fiscal year 2008: 111
Source: Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2008 Report to Congress, Bridge Refugee Services of Chattanooga
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...