Tuesday, October 02, 2007


On the empty street outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Ahmed would often find himself alone with his massive shadow. He feared the militias were waiting to kill him for working as an interpreter for the Americans.

When Ahmed requested his American bosses turn off the floodlights as he left, he was assured that somewhere in a watchtower American snipers were watching his back.

Months later, Ahmed went up there to thank them. The snipers didn’t know what he was talking about and then could only laugh. Ahmed felt betrayed. He realized no one was looking out for him. He had just been lucky. The Iraqis were on their own. As they are today.

Hundreds of loyal Iraqis are on the run from militias for helping America. They want asylum in the U.S. But America has yawned in their faces. Iraqis are dying while America’s refugee program remains riddled with red-tape.

America has a moral obligation in Iraq, and it should do more to help law-abiding Iraqis who supported its war efforts to get out of there.

Ahmed is part of the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq. According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 4.2 million people have been displaced. Jordan and Syria have each taken in more than a million Iraqis.

America had promised to provide refuge to 7000 Iraqis by the end of September. Only 829 have been admitted. Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, says that at this rate Iraqis will have to wait anywhere between 10 months to two years to get a visa, if at all. Crocker articulated the asylum seekers desperation when he sent two damning cables to Washington. One was bluntly titled, ‘Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed it Up?’

There are legitimate security concerns for America. Could the U.S. be letting in disgruntled Iraqis who could turn against the country? It’s possible and that’s why the security screening should not be lenient. What Washington should do however is respond with the sense of urgency that Crocker is demanding.
America can begin by implementing a few of Crocker’s suggestions immediately - Put more people on the job at the embassy in Amman, allow at least Iraqi employees like Ahmed to apply for visas in Baghdad, and try interviewing Iraqis through video conferencing.

The whole process of for refugee status needs to be simpler. Iraqis can’t even apply for refugee status within their own country. The U.S. considers it too unsafe to let so many people into the Green Zone in Baghdad. So, Iraqis have to undertake a perilous journey to the U.S. Embassy in Amman to apply. The understaffed embassy there begins processing their papers while the Iraqis return to the minefield of home, to wait. But, as Crocker has pointed out, the much awaited call could come up to two years later. In Iraq’s tumultuous conditions, that is far too long.

Acknowledging Crocker’s missive however is at odds with the noises the Bush administration makes about the war. If we are told that the situation on the streets of Baghdad is improving, then how come there is a mass exodus of people fleeing to Jordan, Syria, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Denmark, and now clamoring to enter America?

The propaganda about this war lies at the heart of the problem plaguing America’s response to this massive displacement of people. Instead of responding to the refugee problem highlighted by its own ambassador in Baghdad, the Bush administration has started its usual round of finger-pointing. While the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department engage in the blame game, this crisis is costing lives in Iraq.

The refugee problem needs to go right on top of the Iraq agenda. Every humanitarian agency working in Iraq recognizes its explosive nature except America. The UNHCR has said that relocating within Iraq is not an option for asylum seekers from Southern and Central Iraq - they simply have to get out of there or they’ll get killed. It has also doubled its budget to $123 million to tackle the crisis.

America needs to help the refugees now to save the lives of loyal Iraqis like Ahmed. By speeding up the refugee intake, the U.S has a real opportunity to do something it hasn’t done in a long time – regain some moral support in the world by restoring the faith of old friends.


donthecat said...

Long time no post ?

Looks like you have re-surfaced with a bang :-)

Alaphia Zoyab said...

Yeah hi Don,
Watch this space for more.

uday said...

first, reasonably comprehensive post that I am getting to read on teh Iraqi refugee crisis - hardly anything has been written abt it - atleast in the Indian media.

yes, am glad to see u back !


GeekBeyondRedemption said...

Welcome back :)

Where do I start?

I find it interesting that you've written from the point of view of the few Iraqis who chose to help the US, and are now caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea.

There are also millions who are internally displaced, and who are not allied with the US forces. The article seems to mildly suggest that the 4.2 million are somehow allied to the US cause. Thankfully, in another location it talks about the few hundred who are on the run because they helped the US.

I don't know why the article focuses on the plight of a few hundred Iraqis who would be considered traitors by a majority of their brethren, compared to the dozens who DIE everyday. Never mind the millions displaced.

This article is *not* about the Iraqi refugee crisis. It's about a few hundred Iraqis who bet on the wrong side.

Sorry if I come across a bit strongly. But this is an article very much from the American view-point, taking little account of the horrific suffering caused by the 'Coalition' forces in Iraq.

The only take-home is that the neo-cons do not hesitate to ditch even those who are on their side - non-American lives are expendable. Even American lives, if they are not friends or family, are expendable. Isn't that why most of the top Neo-cons are draft-dodgers?

Alaphia Zoyab said...

Hi Uday,
Thanks. Happy to be back after a really long break.

Geek - Thanks for the comment.
I haven't written so much from the American perspective (I don't think I have one!) as much as I have for the American.

Yes, I have used the Iraqi employees of the US as an example of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. But its for two reasons - these people in particular are being hunted. They more than others are caught between the devil and the deep sea because they are seen as traitors by their own people and now even the US has abandoned them.

The 4.2 million people are certainly not to be glossed over, but realistically, its not possible to represent every case. Its a story-telling technique - take the most heart-wrenching tale and present it as one of the several thousand tragedies unfolding in Iraq (or anywhere) and that will be more effective than rattling on about Ahmed, Firas, Farooq, Mohammed, Farida, Kulsum, Iqbal, Idris.... the list is endless.

GeekBeyondRedemption said...

I guess for an American audience, the few thousand of these folks, innocent as some may be, make a more clear-cut case of the US govt. going against the American ethic.

Thank you! And More Please!