By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
“Statistics say one thing, and reality says another. Statistics say violence is down, but that’s because many have already been driven from their homes,” says Malou Innocent, a foreign-policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute. “If we don’t address the situation now, the next generation of Iraqis will remember this. They will remember that they weren’t helped.”
The Iraqi government has economic and political incentives to encourage refugees to return home, Kurtzer says. Most of the Iraqis who have fled are well-educated and highly skilled, and their nation needs them to rebuild the country. If they return, it would also look good for the Iraqi government, because it would signal that the nation is more stable and secure. Nonetheless, humanitarian and advocacy organizations working with Iraqi refugees say they have not seen significant numbers of Iraqis return home and do not expect to anytime soon.
“The reality is that despite the security gains that have been made in some parts of the country,” Kurtzer offers, “the center of the country is still very, very unsafe, and the vast majority of the people who have fled have fled from that part of the country.”
Iraqis living in Syria or Jordan may be barely able to feed their families and cannot afford decent living conditions, but they can buy a cheap cell phone on any street corner and get the latest information on the security situation back home, International Rescue’s Carey says. And their friends and family consistently tell them that it is not safe to return. A spike in violence in April magnified the perception that it is not yet safe to return.
Extremists in Iraq target anyone who they think disagrees with them, but Christian Iraqis have been particularly persecuted. Social-services officials and immigration attorneys working with Iraqi refugees in the United States say fanatics in Iraq have burned down Christian homes and churches; raped women and girls; kidnapped, tortured and killed family members; bombed schools and nunneries; poured acid on women who don’t wear the hijab; threatened Christians with death if they don’t convert; and killed the leader of the Chaldeans in Mosul, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.
“The religious minorities are fleeing an increased level of persecution from Islamic extremists or terrorist groups,” says Ginger Jacobs, an immigration lawyer who represents Iraqis in San Diego.
Small minority groups like the Chaldeans and Mandaeans were largely tolerated under Saddam Hussein’s regime, but they have faced violence since the United States started the war, according to Jacobs and other immigration attorneys and Middle East experts. Extremists have persecuted Christian Iraqis, in part on account of religion, and in part because of resources, Jacobs says. Some insurgents perceive Christians as either wealthy or having ties to relatives in the West, who could pay hefty ransoms. It is these Iraqis who are most vulnerable and unable to return home.
“What has been an even more recent trend, say, post-2006,” Jacobs continues, “is a lot more murders, not just kidnappings for ransom. There have been kidnappings, ransom paid, and then the person is not released. So the situation does seem to be getting more severe.”
The troubles of displaced Iraqis are further exacerbated because the current U.S. plan to resettle refugees leaves many of them vulnerable in America: no job or family to support them. Once they arrive here, they face difficulties finding employment, speaking the language and being able to afford the high cost of living and an expensive family-reunification process. And that is during normal economic times. Add to this a nationwide financial crisis, and many refugees are on the brink of homelessness. The resettlement program was chronically underfunded for decades, but the problems were masked by a strong economy, Human Rights First’s Templeton says. Now that the economy has tanked, all the problems are on full display.
“The U.S. resettlement program has for some years been underfunded and hasn’t changed significantly for the last 30 years,” Carey says. “What we knew to be problems or deficiencies in the past were brought into sharp focus by the downturn.”
The holes in the program used to be filled with the help of private donations, but the economic crisis has made it much harder for resettlement agencies to secure private funding, Templeton adds.
Father Michael Bazzi at St. Peter says the church collects money from its members every Sunday in order to donate goods to the community. In the past, they used the money to donate blankets and mattresses to needy families, most of whom recently came from Iraq. But over the past few weeks the church has not been able to donate anything because it does not have the needed resources.
The government provides refugees cash assistance and case management, including employment services for up to the first eight months after they arrive here, but the money is barely enough to survive on. In California, an unmarried refugee receives $359 a month, a couple receives $584, and a family of four receives $862, according to Catholic Charities, which administers the money for refugees.