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Few Iraqis Find Refuge in US


June 20th is International Refugee Day so we are turning our attention to the refugee situation in Iraq. The United Nations says nearly four million Iraqis have fled from their homes seeking refuge in either safer regions of their country or abroad. And every month at least 40,000 more people are displaced.

The United States faces increasing criticism for not doing more to solve the refugee crisis there or allowing more Iraqi refugees into the U.S. In 2006 the United States allowed only 202 Iraqi refugees into the country. VOA's Brian Padden found one of the few -- in Dearborn, Michigan.

There is a large Iraqi community in Dearborn, Michigan. It makes up a significant part of the 500,000 Arab-Americans who live in or around the Midwest city of Detroit.

Most of the men at the Karbala Islamic Center, like the vast majority of Iraqis here, came in the early 1990s after the first Gulf War. But Ahmed Kareem arrived just a year ago. Before he left Iraq, Kareem says he was working as a journalist in Baghdad for an American-supported Iraqi newspaper. He says he fled after he was targeted for assassination for helping Americans.

"The last time in Iraq a couple of guys shot at me and that's why I had to leave Iraq because of this. And my family was threatened too, and one of my brothers was assassinated," Kareem told us.

Kareem now lives in one small rented room. He wants to bring other family members here. They are now living in Egypt. Kareem is one of the few Iraqi refugees who have been allowed into the United States. In 2006 only 202 Iraqis were resettled in the U.S. This is a controversial issue even in the Arab community here.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan. He says the government is discriminating against Arabs and Muslims. "We believe it is partly due to the demonization of Arabs in the post-9/11 era."

But Iraqi Imam Husham Al-Husainy says the U.S. needs to be careful not to allow pro-Saddam sympathizers or even terrorists into the country.

"I am very concerned about Iraqi image and U.S. security. If we bring bad elements, they will reflect bad image of Iraqis in America and they will disturb the peace in this country," says the iman.

Kareem is considered one of the lucky few that has made it to America. Many of the nearly four million displaced Iraqis live in camps, like one in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Lavinia Limon is president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a non-governmental organization. She says the U.S. should do more to resolve the Iraqi refugee crisis and in particular to help those Iraqis who have assisted the U.S. government effort in Iraq.

"We are very dismayed. We're dismayed that the U.S. government has not seen fit to rescue more people who have been directly affected by their involvement with our effort in Iraq."

This year the Bush administration announced a $20 million increase in funding to support refugee programs. And U.S. State Department Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky said the U.S. would work with the UNHCR, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, to significantly increase the number of Iraqis allowed into the country. "We are expanding our capacity to receive referrals from UNHCR and plan to process expeditiously some 7,000 Iraqi refugee referrals in the near term," she said.

Limon says so far the government is failing to meet its own goal. The problem she says is partly bureaucratic mismanagement but she also believes the administration wants pro-American Iraqis to continue to help the war effort in Iraq.

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