Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iraq’s Refugees

Editorial: The New York Times
Published: January 31, 2007

To calculate the price that Iraqis have paid for the American misadventure in their country, you have to deal in big, round, horrifying numbers. Civilians killed last year: 34,000. Driven from their homes within Iraq: 1.8 million. Fled to other countries: an additional 2 million, and growing. The number of Iraqis who have found refuge in the United States is easier to pin down. This country has admitted a grand total of 466 Iraqi refugees since 2003.

However President Bush tries to manage the endgame of his dismal war, America has an obligation to the Iraqis whose lives it has upended. It owes a particular debt to those who have faced incredible dangers working with American forces as interpreters, guides and contractors. These allies — and their families — have become a haunted and hunted group, branded as traitors and targeted for kidnapping and assassination by insurgents and militias.

By any measure, the Bush administration is failing them. The current price tag for the war is $8 billion a month, yet the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the coming fiscal year to help shelter Iraqi refugees overseas and to resettle them here. A special visa program to resettle Iraqi and Afghan military translators has been capped at 50 people a year and has a six-year waiting list.

Of all the Vietnam-era mistakes the country has been repeating lately, indifference to refugees is especially unforgivable. The administration can start addressing the problem by devoting a far greater number of refugee slots — currently 70,000 a year — to people from Iraq and Afghanistan. It can streamline entry procedures, which should be a manageable task for those who have already been vetted to work with the United States military.

It should move quickly to organize a conference with Iraq’s neighbors to discuss ways to cope better with the human suffering and the potentially destabilizing effects of the rising human tide. And it should answer an urgent appeal for funds by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is seeking $60 million over the next 12 months to shelter and protect displaced Iraqis.

Does it really need to be said yet again that in these perilous times the way to win trustworthy allies is to be one?