George Packer at The New Yorker has been following the saga of Iraqis (and Afghans) who have worked with US forces and governmental interests and media outlets, only to find themselves and their families endangered as collaborators when the situation grew more and more dicey. The shame is that our State Department has worked to tighten immigration to prevent these people — who risked their lives working with and for our interests — from coming into the country. As George explains:
…Miska wrote me to say that he was going to commit himself to getting his unit’s local staff who were under threat out of Iraq and into the U.S. Now Miska is at the end of his fifteen-month tour and about to leave Iraq. Last night, he wrote in an e-mail:
We have five Iraqis in the US, all interpreters. We have more than two dozen more with packets in various stages of completion. Even though this is the special [immigrant] visa streamlined process, I don’t think the Iraqis could have figured it out without my staff. It took a concerted effort to decipher the system and develop the points of contact at each echelon to work through the red tape. We have had more success than most. Still, the policy calls for the final visa approval to take place in Amman. Iraqis must come up with an alibi to get to Amman, as “I’m going to the U.S. Embassy” will get you quickly turned around at the Jordanian border. We set up a bit of an underground railroad from our location and it has worked.
So here is one soldier who has made it his last mission not to leave his Iraqi friends behind. Many other soldiers are doing the same thing, as individuals and through organizations like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. In the case of the military, the reason is clear: an institutional ethos and shared dangers create a debt of gratitude and a strong bond. A handful of civilian officials from various departments are also pushing on behalf of their Iraqi friends. But the State Department, as an organization, has disgraced itself.
It lobbied against a Senate resolution that would increase the number of special immigrant visas for Iraqis by tenfold and allow applications to be reviewed inside Iraq. After promising to resettle seven thousand Iraqis here this fiscal year, it managed only sixteen hundred and eight. After promising to resettle twelve thousand in fiscal year 2008, it started off with just four hundred and fifty in October. The projected numbers are meaningless P.R., which is how the department treats the issue….
According to the latest reports from McClatchy, one in seven Iraqis are displaced due to the conflict in their country. One in seven. The UNHCR estimates that there are nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled outside the borders into neighboring countries, with a further 2.25 million displaced Iraqis inside the country’s borders as well, fleeing ethnic and religious strife and violent upheaval in their former communities.
There are substantial concerns that this upheaval, which continues to pour into neighboring countries with no real assistance from American or British interests, will pose a substantial destabilizing effect for the entire region already roiled as it is. Just a daily read through Juan Cole’s reporting is enough to give you a feel for just how unstable things can get on a daily basis without adding even more volatility, despair and fertile extremist recruiting prospects to the mix by the US government’s systematically not giving a rat’s ass about the problems we, ourselves, helped to create.
Afghan refugees are facing similar issues, with both Iran and Pakistan forcibly ejecting desperate Afghans back to their communities despite ethnic and religious strife and a growing Taliban presence that threatens numerous lives.
In short, we have one holy mess. And one for which our nation carries a great debt. Again, from George Packer:
A coda to yesterday’s post on the State Department: a desperate department official wrote to me, describing the sluggishness with which refugee applications in Syria and Jordan are being reviewed:
There is no excuse for this kind of mindless bureaucratic approach. I can’t find anyone here who seems to care that some of them seem to be on the verge of abandoning their cases. Know anyone who could do a one-page article somewhere to get the ball moving again?
So conscientious people on the inside have nowhere to turn but the press.
I thought it was high time this debt got some attention, too, so I’m raising the issue. These people are not merely things we can pick up, use, and then throw away. They have risked their own lives and the lives of their families for the promise of a better future for themselves and their nation, for the hope of a paycheck and also more stability in the long-run, for the dream that is American freedom. And when things went badly instead of the rose-colored scenario that Rummy and Dick laid out for the faithful, we brushed aside our debt to them as if all of their risk meant nothing to us at all.
For shame. Shame on Condi Rice and the State Department, and shame on George Bush. This is the embassy airlift in Vietnam writ large — we should have done better then, and we sure as hell should have learned to do better now. Condi Rice is hoping that this issue will just disappear off her plate if she continues to ignore it long enough — not gonna happen, honey.
Sen. Ted Kennedy and others in the Senate have introduced legislation to help. It is high time that it was passed and that the US made good on its debts.