Hard to believe

by John Q on November 29, 2006

Writing in the LA Daily News, in a piece full of harrowing stories of flight from Iraq, Pamela Hartman states

The United States has not liberalized its refugee policy in response to the worsening crisis in Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqi refugees of all religious backgrounds have poured into Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In fiscal year 2006, just 202 Iraqi refugees were resettled in the United States.

The 1 million figure is broadly consistent with other estimates I’ve seen, but there’s no source for the amazingly low figure of 202 refugees (If anyone can point to a data source that would be great.) I assume this excludes people like many of Hartman’s clients who’ve found some other route such as a family relationship, but that can’t change the fact that the US is ducking a central responsibility here.

Of course, the same is true in spades for Australia. At the same time as promoting the disastrous Iraq venture, many of our local warmongers have enthusiastically backed the view that we have no obligations to the refugees it has created, or, in comments on my blog, only to the Christians among them.

There’s no real way to salvage the disaster we’ve created in Iraq. But we must at least accept the responsibility of providing a haven to those fleeing the carnage we have created.



Daniel 11.29.06 at 3:05 am

I’m currently reading Frank Snepp’s book “Decent Interval”, on the period in Vietnam which I take to be roughly analogous to 2008 in Iraq, and the point I’m picking up at present is that if we think that we can just quietly withdraw our troops while leaving the currently “friendly” Iraqis behind, we may have a fairly big nother think coming. They tend to notice, and they don’t like it.


bad Jim 11.29.06 at 5:09 am

Haven’t we already been warned that if we don’t defeat them there, they’ll follow us home?

It’s almost as though Americans never lost a war and never had to accommodate the resultant flood of refugees.

I, for one, welcome the prospect of fresh injections of huddling masses yearning to breathe free, as well as their distinctive cuisine.


anon 11.29.06 at 7:12 am

Importing a huge number of people from a war zone full of suicide bombers – what could possibly go wrong?


stuart 11.29.06 at 8:33 am

Wouldn’t it be a problem for the US and its allies to have a policy of deliberately creating and drawing terrorists to the Iraq area, and then allowing any sizable number of refugees from that area? I imagine all it would take would be a single one of the refugees suspected of being a terrorist or even just some serious criminal act and there would no doubt be a massive campaign to eject all Iraqi refugees in response (whether the original suspect was ever found guilty or not).


Matt 11.29.06 at 8:37 am

Most likely the US is following the international refugee definition in a strict and gruding fashion, something it sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t do. If so, the US would require that an Iraqi be outside of Iraq before applying for refugee status, and be able to show that the persecution he or she faces is due to someone acting with government authority. Given even the normal way of understanding the last part this shouldn’t be too much trouble for an Iraqi now, since in the US this is usually interprited to allow for persecutors acting with something like assumed government authority in cases where they have usurped this from a real government. I’d guess the real sticking point is that they US isn’t considering anyone from Iraq a refugee unless she shows up in the US, and I’d guess that it’s awfully hard for Iraqis to get to the US now. (Consulary officers from around the world, including the US but hardly limited to it, will often use the fact that someone seems likely to apply for asylum as a reason to refuse a visa. This is of course a shameful practice and one at best on the edge of legality.) This isn’t in any way an appology for the US number, just an explination of it. Obviously the US has a moral (if not, I think, a strictly legal) obligation to take in Iraqies endangered by our foolish actions.


Steve LaBonne 11.29.06 at 9:38 am

The Iraqis simply need to learn Spanish and try to pass for Cubans, then Bush will be happy to personally welcome them to the country.


norbizness 11.29.06 at 9:57 am

Accept what now?


Hogan 11.29.06 at 10:25 am

Wouldn’t it be a problem for the US and its allies to have a policy of deliberately creating and drawing terrorists to the Iraq area, and then allowing any sizable number of refugees from that area?

It’s almost like the people who started this war didn’t really think it through all the way.


abb1 11.29.06 at 10:29 am

They live in a democracy, why would they flee? It doesn’t make sense.


Thomas 11.29.06 at 11:04 am

The administration can’t start allowing more refugees without admitting that they have failed, which isn’t going to happen for a while yet.

In Algeria the French government tried to prevent any Algerians from following the French troops back when they were defeated, but the military didn’t accept that and brought their allies (or collaborators) with them anyway. Will the US military show similar courage when they get out of Iraq?


Ginger Yellow 11.29.06 at 12:39 pm

That’s nothing. Britain has been deporting Iraqi refugees on the grounds that everything’s just shiny in the Kurdish parts of Iraq.


grytpype 11.29.06 at 1:32 pm

There is no way we will be letting a bunch of pissed-off Iraqis into America. Yes, it’s horrible. But the security risk would be too great.


roger 11.29.06 at 2:33 pm

The psychological foundations for this were laid long ago by the war’s most ardent fans. It was only about a month into the occupation when David Aaronovitch started talking about the childishness of the Iraqis – humiliated by the fact that they were unable to overthrow Saddam and had to have big Daddy Uncle Sam do it for them, they were obviously going to act like sullen adolescents. From the sullen adolescent image, and the weird idea that Americans had to ‘train’ the Iraqis in things they knew perfectly well how to do – as in, maintain an army and a police force (the training meme being, of course, cover for the grand fiasco of disbanding Iraq’s security forces, from which chaos on chaos has sprung) to Fred Barnes piece in 2004, after he’d seen the Good News in Iraq, puzzling about Iraqi ingratitude, to the idea that they are savages – it is simply a fastforward through the imagos of colonialism. Neill Ferguson’s characterization of the stages of the British empire – with the last stage, post 1870, being a frankly racialist notion of Empire -fits pretty well.


Planeshift 11.29.06 at 3:57 pm

Re: 11

We were actually doing that during the run up to war. As the Blair government were pointing out the human rights abuses of Iraq, kurds were being sent back to face those same abuses. One home office letter actually told an asylum seeker that “the justice system of Iraq is fair, and we did not feel you would be denied a fair trial.”


dearieme 11.29.06 at 4:12 pm

Fascinating. Having adopted the second-stupidest way anyone could think of for opposing Islamism, we should now adopt the stupidest?


John Quiggin 11.29.06 at 5:04 pm

#15, see #8


Ragout 11.29.06 at 10:57 pm

Thomas is right: we’re not going to let in many refugees until after we (the US) pull out of Iraq. Then, I expect that we’ll pass a law making it easy for the Iraqis to be admitted as refugees. Finally, a large flow of refugees from Iraq will continue for a decade or two. That’s been the pattern with Vietnam, Iran, Central America, Cuba, and so on.

At the moment, though, things are awful. Even if the UN registers Iraqis as refugees they still wouldn’t be let in, since most Iraqis would probably be considered terrorists under US law.

But, John, the only reason you find the current situation “hard to believe” is because of the international “humanitarian” community’s shameful silence. They’ve been been ignoring the plight of Iraqi refugees for decades.

Before the 2003 invasion, there were already about 2 million refugees from Saddam’s Iraq: 1 million internal refugees, and 1 million in neighboring countries. The UN mostly deferred to Saddam’s wishes and ignored them. To date, the UN has registered only a few 10s of thousands of Iraqi refugees. NGOs have done very little to help. You won’t find any mortality studies published in epidemiological journals. Jordan has basically treated Iraqi refugeess as illegal aliens. I think the list of good samaritans is limited to Iran.

P.S. The US State Department says that 198 Iraqi refugees were admitted in 2005. The good news is that they expect admissions to increase by 150% this year!


Katherine 11.30.06 at 12:06 am

Iran? Not exactly. (Link is to pretty thorough report by HRW. The focus is on Jordan but there are sections on a bunch of countries.)


Ragout 11.30.06 at 3:23 am


I think that HRW report is focussing on a small aspect of Iranian policy. If you look at Iran’s record as a whole it’s pretty good: they host more refugees than any country in the world (see this HRW report). A lot of the Marsh Arabs fled to Iran.


John Quiggin 11.30.06 at 4:36 am

‘But, John, the only reason you find the current situation “hard to believe” is because of the international “humanitarian” community’s shameful silence. They’ve been been ignoring the plight of Iraqi refugees for decades.’

Ragout, this issue has been a hot one in Australia for many years – it was, for example, central in the 2001 election. So when I say it’s hard to believe, I mean that even when the actions of the CoW have directly created the refugee crisis, and even when large numbers are fleeing because they are seen as collaborators with the occupying forces, there has still been no change in the policy.

I hope your Vietnam analogy is right, but I think the view of most supporters of the war is pretty much that of anon at #3, repeated various times through the thread.


abb1 11.30.06 at 4:50 am

there is no such thing as ‘internal refugees’, they are called ‘internally displaced’ (IDs).

The UN mostly deferred to Saddam’s wishes and ignored them.

All the UN can do is to assist national governments if they agree to receive assistance, assuming that the UN has money to do it. The UN can’t force Jordan or Syria (where most of the Iraqi refugees are) or any other sovereign state to do anything. Saddam’s wishes have nothing to do with that, that’s silly.


Matt 11.30.06 at 8:37 am

It’s important to keep in mind that refugee numbers listed in the report linked by ragout are only fraction of the refugees actually granted asylum in the US each year. That report is about the number of refugees certified by UNHCR or by the US government to be refugees outside of the US who are then admitted to the US in resettlement programs. It doesn’t include the people who are technically called ‘asylees’ in US law who are people who show up in the US in various ways and then apply for and are granted asylum. In many years this group is as large or larger than the ‘refugee’ group, and has no annual cap like the other group does. (The cap on resettlment refugees crashed in during the Bush years, and even the lower cap was often not filled as unreasonable documentation requirements were impossed on refugees. The numbers are also a bit misleading since they contain a large number of ‘refugees’ who are such in name only, i.e., Jews from Russia and many Cubans who would not, by any plausible means, meet the normal refugee definition but who are called such for political reasons.)


Ragout 11.30.06 at 9:17 am


The UN restricted their activities in northern Iraq because Saddam asked them to. According to a Brookings report.

UN human rights officials…have not visited the North. Their terms of reference allow them to visit countries only at the invitation of the government. In this case, the government in Baghdad has unsurprisingly never ‘invited’ them to visit the North.

The report also discusses how the UN limited their demining and reconstruction efforts in the North at Saddam’s behest.


abb1 11.30.06 at 10:34 am

Of course, like I said: they can’t go to Iraq or any other sovereign state without being allowed by the government. How would you expect it to work? But also, like I said, there can’t be Iraqi refugees in Iraq, simply by definition.


pamela hartman 11.30.06 at 3:47 pm

Hi. The source for the 202 Iraqi refugee figure was an administrator at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Wash. D.C.



John Quiggin 11.30.06 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for this info Pamela, and congratulations on a compelling article.


Ragout 11.30.06 at 11:35 pm

Pamela, let me offer my congratulations too, for an excellent article. Any thoughts on the politics of this issue?

Comments on this entry are closed.