WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is working to permanently resettle hundreds of Iraqis who were victims of Islamic State (IS) violence.
Larry Bartlett, director of the Office of Refugee Admissions at the State Department told VOA that the U.S. is coordinating with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to bring in hundreds of Iraqis to several to be determined locations in the U.S. Most of them are Yazidis and Christians whose communities were uprooted by IS. Many of them suffered brutality and torture at the hands of IS.
“The criteria will be to look for people who have returned from being enslaved,” Bartlett said. It “will be to look at families that have suffered killings by [IS] and we understand that some of these killings were made in front of their family members.”
The resettlement efforts mark the first widespread attempt by the U.S. to admit Iraqis who survived under IS. Since the rise of IS in mid-2014 in the Middle East, the U.S. admitted 15,583 Syrian refugees of civil war and IS rule between January 2014 and October 2016, according to the Center for American Progress.
A few Iraqis have come to the U.S. under medical and other programs.
Delegations from the State Department and the Canadian Ministry of Immigration visited northern Iraq in early December. They met with local government officials and aid groups to identify victims for resettlement under the new program.
“We confirmed that Yazidis were the most traumatized [and] were the most victimized,” Bartlett said. “But there are other groups that were also affected by [IS] such as Christians and other religious minorities up there in the north.”
Mirza Dinnayi, head of the German-based organization Air Bridge Iraq, who attended the delegations' meetings, told VOA that at least 750 Iraqis will be sent to the United States while Canada will take in between 700 to 1,200 Iraqis.
“They intend to start the program with ten cases at the beginning,” Dinnayi said.
Bartlett said the numbers are in flux.
“We would expect that within a course of a year we would do hundreds of people,” Bartlett said. “One of the things we want to focus on is resettling families as a whole. There have been other programs in the past where just some of the victims were resettled for treatment. We are looking at this differently. We are looking at this as a family unity program of linking families together as much as possible.”
U.S. resettlement cases can often take as long as 18 months. Bartlett said the U.S. is trying to fast track this program.
But Dinnayi worries the process could be lengthy saying most of the Iraqis live in camps and need urgent help.
“The U.S. is a little bit complicated,” Dinnayi said.
The resettlement process comes as the U.S. prepares for a change in presidential administration.
President-elect Donald Trump said during his campaign that if elected he would "suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats."
But Trump’s policies will not evolve until after he takes office on January 20.
“We don’t know if policies of the new administration will affect this type of program,” Bartlett told VOA. “The world is well aware of the atrocities that have been committed by [IS] …This work is a part of our response.”