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US Lawmakers Seek to Admit More Iraqi Refugees

10 May 2007

U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation to increase the number of Iraqis fleeing conflict in Iraq who can be admitted to the United States. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the focus is on people whose lives are threatened for assisting U.S. and coalition forces, and international organizations in Iraq.

Called The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act, the proposed measure would establish a special immigrant visa program to allow 15,000 Iraqis whose lives are threatened because of their assistance to foreign forces to come to the United States.

It's sponsored by Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenaeur who is among lawmakers upset that the United States has allowed relatively few Iraqis into the country.

"Whatever one believes about the wisdom of the war, or the future of the U.S. engagement in Iraq, we have a responsibility to Iraqi innocent citizens, who have been driven from their homes and fear for their lives every day," said Earl Blumenaeur.

Human rights groups and experts estimate that two million Iraqis have fled their country, many to Jordan and Syria, with another two million internally-displaced.

Blumenauer's measure would allow an additional 20,000 Iraqis considered to be "particularly vulnerable" to resettle in the United States.

In this category are those who might currently be barred because they were forced to provide "material support" to armed groups in Iraq, such as the payment of ransoms to kidnappers, or other threatening situations.

Appearing with Congressman Blumenaeur was Terron Sims, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2004.

Citing examples of Iraqi language interpreters who were killed because they helped American troops, he says the government has a responsibility to help.

"It is imperative that Congress passes this," said Terron Sims. "The Iraqis are standing side by side with coalition forces, risking their lives every day for a better and free Iraq. [This legislation is] definitely imperative for all of us."

Sarnata Reynolds, director of the refugee program at Amnesty International says countries such as Jordan are overburdened by a continuing massive inflow of refugees:

"Amnesty International urges the international community, in particular the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and other states with the capacity to share responsibility for these refugees by protecting and resettling Iraqis residing in Jordan, Syria and other host nations," said Sarnata Reynolds. "Priority should be given to the most vulnerable cases, including religious and ethnic minorities and female headed households. Such resettlement programs should go far beyond token gestures, and should constitute a significant part of the solution to this crisis."

In recent testimony to Congress, U.S. officials have stressed that efforts are under way to speed up the processing and increase the number of Iraqi refugees allowed into the United States.

Congressman Blumenauer says he is confident his measure will attract bipartisan support and be approved by the House, whether on its own or as an amendment to other legislation.

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