The Bush administration says it has surpassed its goal of allowing 12,000 Iraqi refugees into the United States this year. U.S. officials said on September 12 that by the end of September (2008) they will have resettled 1,000 more refugees than they had projected. The figure is far higher than in previous years, when critics said the Bush administration was not interested in bringing Iraqi refugees to the U.S. VOA's Bill Rodgers reports.
Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled their country to escape the escalating violence.
Some two million Iraqis are now living in other countries, many in Syria and Jordan. Up until 2007, the United States had admitted fewer than than 500 refugees into the country.
Now, U.S. officials say by the end of this month some 13,000 refugees will have been resettled in the United States since October 2007.
State Department official, James Foley, says even more will be resettled over the next 12 months. "We anticipate that barring unforeseen developments in the region, we will be in a position to increase number of refugees for permanent resettlement in fiscal year 2009," Foley said. "Now, we cannot predict what that number ultimately will be but we expect to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees in the coming fiscal year."
Some Iraqis have returned to their country over the past year as violence has diminished.
Yet even with a return of normalcy in Baghdad and some other parts of Iraq, many Iraqis have been reluctant to come home.
And the Iraqi government has spent relatively little money to resettle the refugees, which prompted criticism from Foley. "I think it would behoove them to put a little bit more in the way of planning, policies and resources behind a credible and serious effort to promote sustainable, large-scale returns," he said. "Because what we've seen so far are modest, laudable efforts that don't get us very far."
The Bush administration has faced persistent criticism from those involved in refugee programs. They accuse U.S. officials, optimistic over success in the Iraq war, of not doing more to resettle the displaced. But Foley says the United States does recognize its unique responsibilities toward Iraqi refugees.