Human Rights First – 2007-08-24 23:53:29
• ACTION: “Extending a Lifeline.” By passing S.1651, the bipartisan “Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act,” the United States can begin to fulfill its moral obligation to protect Iraqi refugees. Send this message to your Senators.
Meet an Iraqi Refugee: “Mirah” Age 27
Mirah is a twenty seven year old woman from a small city in the south of Iraq called Kut. When the United States occupied Iraq in 2003 she was working on a degree in English at her local university.
As young woman from an area where Iraq’s tribes are strong, she says she lived a closed life, spending all her time either at home or in school, unable to stand up to the men in her family when she disagreed with them. In May of 2003, Mirah met an American lawyer named Fern Holland. Holland encouraged the women at Mirah’s university to form a volunteer group to work on women’s rights.
Mirah felt inspired by her words and helped start the organization. She began working for the Coalition Provisional Authority and wrote a weekly column for Iraqi newspapers on women’s issues. In November of 2003, in recognition of her work, she was invited to visit the United States as part of a delegation of Iraqi women that met with President Bush at the White House.
However, advocating for women’s rights in Iraq quickly became dangerous. On the 9th of March, 2004, Mirah’s American mentor Fern Holland was gunned down in her car, one of the first US civilian casualties in Iraq.
The next month, the Medhi Army attacked the CPA building in Kut where Mirah worked. She fled the building, under fire, and was told by Mehdi army officers that she would be killed. After two weeks in hiding at home, she returned to her work.
For the next year and a half, Mirah attempted to continue running her association for women’s rights in Kut. She received two death threats from an Iraqi political party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, and was forced to spend time hiding in Baghdad and in Jordan.
Determined to resume her work on women’s rights, she returned to Kut in on April 12, 2005. She found the women’s association ransacked and the refrigerator riddled with bullets. Mirah closed the organization and fled to Jordan, where she is currently a refugee.
When Mirah visited the Ministry of Intelligence to ask for a legal residence in Jordan, she was informed she had three days to leave the country. Without her legal residence card, Mirah has struggled to find work and is barely surviving in Jordan, but she has continued to be a strong supporter of human rights.
With the help of a team of British filmmakers, Mirah has started a program that collects donations from abroad to help send Iraqi children to school. She fears deportation and has attempted to leave Jordan for a safer country, so far without luck.
She told Human Rights First “I would like to study. If I came to the United States, I would try to get a master’s degree. Here, life is so horrible. My life is being wasted.”
• To learn more, visit the website of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees click here.
• To learn more about Human Rights First’s advocacy for refugees, here.
• To Take Action. http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/iraqi_refugee_act?rk=gpsgPaM11TMXE
Did You Know?
The Scope of the Iraqi Refugee Crisis
• Total number of Iraqi refugees: At least 2.2 million, with another 2 million displaced inside Iraq
• Number of Iraqis fleeing each day: 2,000
• Number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan: 750,000
• Number of Iraqi refugees in Syria Between: 1,000,000 and 1,500,000
• Number of Iraqi refugees accepted by the United States in 2007: 190
Human Rights First was recently cited in a Washington Post’s lead editorial urging policymakers to address the Iraqi refugee crisis.
The Refugee Crisis: Helping Iraqis Who Helped Us
Editorial / Washington Post
(August 12, 2007) — As many as 110,000 Iraqis may be targeted as collaborators for helping US, coalition or foreign reconstruction efforts. These Iraqis and their families are frequently at risk of kidnapping, murder and persecution. At least 257 translators have already been killed, according to Human Rights First.
As a result, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has referred more than 8,000 Iraqis to the United States for resettlement this year alone. Yet fewer than 200 have been admitted. This embarrassingly slow trickle of resettled refugees — Sweden takes more than 1,000 each month — motivated Ryan C. Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad, to write a cable last month urging the administration to guarantee visas for all Iraqis helping the United States.
The obstacles Iraqis face to be recommended by the UNHCR make these low resettlement rates all the more astonishing. Iraqis cannot apply for refugee status from within Iraq; they must first brave the dangers of crossing a border. If they make it, those fleeing violence and persecution may also find that because of a broad legal provision disqualifying refugees who have provided “material support” to terrorist organizations they can be denied resettlement in the United States if they have paid ransoms for kidnapped relatives. According to Human Rights First, in some cases involving kidnappings the UNHCR has decided not to refer even deserving applicants to the United States out of concern that the irrational “material support” provision will bar them from entry.
Bills introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) could help oil the American refugee-processing machine. The bills would set up processing facilities in Iraq, establish Iraqi refugee coordinators at US embassies in the region and authorize more funding. Both would create a special immigrant visa category for Iraqis who have worked for the United States, allowing them to apply for resettlement from within Iraq and without having to go through the UNHCR. The House bill also revises the “material support” provision to exempt cases in which the support was provided under duress.
Both bills also would require the United States to better assist Iraq’s neighbors, which have absorbed more than 2 million refugees at great cost to their own economic and social stability. The State Department has taken some steps in this direction, including its recent pledge to help fund a UNHCR-UNICEF program subsidizing schooling for displaced Iraqi children.
We urge legislators to support these bills. No matter one’s opinion on the war, this humanitarian crisis needs to be confronted and fixed.