By ROGER COHEN
Published: September 27, 2007
New York Times
...When Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says, “Yes, of course the United States should do more,” you can feel his indignation about to erupt like milk boiling over. He notes that given the huge population difference, Sweden’s intake of Iraqis “is the equivalent of the U.S. taking in about 500,000 refugees.”
Of all the Iraq war scandals, America’s failure to do more for refugees, including thousands who put their lives at risk for the U.S., stands out for its moral bankruptcy. Last time I checked, Sweden did not invade Iraq. Its generosity shames President Bush’s fear-infused nation.
I know, the U.S. is showering aid (more than $122 million in 2007) on Iraq’s neighbors to help more than two million fleeing Iraqis. It set up a refugee task force in February and, when that faltered, appointed two refugee czars this month.
“We want people engaged in this 24/7, breaking down barriers and expeditiously helping the refugees,” Paula Dobriansky, the under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, told me. “We have a moral obligation, and especially to those who have worked at our embassy.”
A commitment has been made to process 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Visas for 500 Iraqis a year who worked for the U.S. have been promised. But these are velleities. Concern has been unmatched by results. Bush has never addressed the issue, an example of his Green Zone politics: shut out ugly reality and with luck it will vanish.
An aggressive American intake of refugees would suggest that their quick return to Iraq is improbable: that smacks too much of failure for Bush. Moreover, you have to scrutinize refugees from countries “infiltrated by large numbers of terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff opined recently.
The result has been “major bottlenecks,” in the words of a leaked cable from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. Instead of the 7,000 Iraqi refugees supposed to get here this fiscal year, perhaps 1,600 will.
“The numbers are totally embarrassing,” says Kirk Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Iraq. “We can’t recognize a moral imperative any more.”
Imperative is right. People who risked their lives for America are dying or being terrorized because of craven U.S. lethargy. Others are in limbo. Bush now says “Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” That’s too glib; one may be waiting to be saved.
The I-told-you-so phase of the Iraq invasion is thankfully ending. What is needed now is consensus on American responsibility. That starts with a more open door to Iraqis in flight. Mr. President, say something.
Gamil lost his job when the army was disbanded. He worked sporadically as a translator. But when threats came — as a Sunni ex-officer he was an obvious target to Shiite militias — “I had to save my life and my wife’s.”
Sweden will give him a lawyer to argue his asylum case. Ekblad says the “overwhelming majority” are approved. Refugees then get a permanent resident permit leading to possible citizenship in five years. “Our costs are huge, and we’d like to see more burden-sharing,” he says.
Burden sharing! How about guts? Swedes are polite to a fault.
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