A sense of belonging. A desire for civility. Both seem necessary for a welcoming and respectful society. But what happens when these ideas backfire?
With the U.S. scheduled to pull out of Iraq this year, Iraqis who work with US entities find themselves fearful for their future, and many want to resettle in the US. A special visa program allows up to 5,000 of these Iraqis — who report grave threats because of their U.S. affiliation — to gain admittance each year, but only about 1,000 of these slots are filled annually. We find out why aiding these Iraqis has been such a challenge, and how security, budgetary and bureaucratic hurdles impact their lives.
- Kirk Johnson Founder and Executive Director, The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies
- Eric Schwartz Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. Department of State
- Ban Hameed Iraqi Caseload Coordinator for The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies at Holland & Knight LLP
- Elizabeth Campbell Senior Advocate, Refugees International
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. They can be one of the most volatile assets in war zone, locals who go to work as translators, embassy workers and subcontractors, providing valuable knowledge and know-how to foreign forces.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn Iraq, the U.S. government has employed tens of thousands of Iraqis to fill these important roles, but to insurgents and local militia, these workers are labeled collaborators and traitors. Many have been threatened, tortured or killed. As the U.S. prepares to pull its forces out by the end of the 2011, many Iraqis who work for the U.S. are looking for a way out of their homeland.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISixty thousand Iraqis have already resettled in the U.S., but for those most at risk, the paperwork can't process fast enough. So who's aiding this vulnerable group and what kind of hurdles do they face? Joining us by telephone from the Caribbean is Kirk Johnson, founder and executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. Kirk Johnson, thank you for joining us.
MR. KIRK JOHNSONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us in studio is Ban Hameed, Iraqi Caseload coordinator for the The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies at the law firm of Holland and Knight LLP. Ban Hameed, thank you for joining us.
MS. BAN HAMEEDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from the State Department is Eric Schwartz, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the U.S. Department of State. Eric Schwartz, thank you for joining us.
MR. ERIC SCHWARTZIt's pleasure.
NNAMDIBan, allow me to start with you. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this issue, I wanted to start with your story. Just a few years ago, you were a student in Baghdad. What did you do during the war and how did you end up in Washington?
HAMEEDWell, I graduated from a private school in Iraq, Baghdad and then the invasion happened 2003. So I got a job with two different U.S. affiliations as a translator and administrative assistant and then I got the opportunity to come here through a training and my U.S. employer send me here. And when I arrived here, my mom and my sisters, I call, they said, don't come back. They are hunting down U.S. affiliated Iraqi so you will be caught if you come back. So I had decided to stay and applied for asylum.
NNAMDIKirk, what is that drove you to start The List Project and to take on cases like Ban's?
JOHNSONWell, I used to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq, in Baghdad and then in Fallujah in 2005. And during that time, even five plus years ago the threats that our Iraqi interpreters and other employees were facing were mounting so we already saw it happening then.
JOHNSONBut when I came back to the United States, I was growing increasingly frustrated that the U.S. government, at the time, wasn't doing anything to help my former colleagues like Ban and others and so I started speaking out about it. And now The List Project is the largest organization thousands of these Iraqis, trying to help them get out of harm's way.
NNAMDIHow many Iraqis have you had on your list? How many have you helped? How many remain on your list?
JOHNSONThousands have written over the years, which I never really anticipated. I was just trying to help a couple of my former aid colleagues, but over the years, we've helped roughly 1,000 to make it into the United States, to safety here.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz, can you give us a larger picture of the numbers of Iraqi refugees entering the U.S., regardless of whether or not they worked for the U.S.?
SCHWARTZSure, Kojo. Thanks. And it's a pleasure to be with Kirk and others on this program. We work closely with The List Project and we value and honor it. It's really critically important work. First, this is part of a worldwide resettlement effort. I mean, between Burmese, Bhutanese, Somali, Sudanese, Liberians and on and on, the United States resettles, this year probably -- or last year, about 75,000 people from around the world.
SCHWARTZSeveral years ago, there was a great concern that Iraqis at risk for whom resettlement might be the only alternative, were not moving out fast enough. And thanks to the good work of Senator Kennedy, Kirk and others, there was a transformation in the U.S. government's effort. So since 2007 to today, there have been about -- as you said, there have been about 60,000 Iraqis who have been resettled in the United States.
SCHWARTZResettlement is not the ideal solution of choice for most the world's refugees. We just don't have the numbers. But for some who are particularly vulnerable, this has to be the alternative. In the case of Iraq, in addition to resettling from Jordan and Syria and other parts of the region, we do something quite extraordinary and unusual, but also quite challenging, which is we resettle Iraqis actually before they're refugees.
SCHWARTZWe resettle them from Iraq, Iraqis who are at risk, who feel they need to go and who can get through the process can be resettled to the United States from within Iraq itself. That's very unusual. I think it speaks well of the commitment of the United States, but also creates some very serious and significant processing challenges.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz, what percentage of these Iraqis can be considered most vulnerable because their work for the U.S.?
SCHWARTZIt's very hard to tell and let me explain why. Because the overwhelming majority of people we've resettled are refugees, it's about 65,000. Another 5,000 have special immigrant visa cases. Now, anyone who is a refugee is by definition at risk, that's why they're refugees. At risk of persecution or other at risk of targeted harm.
SCHWARTZAnd most of the people whom we resettle from Iraq are resettle through -- with the cooperation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And so they can be resettled for any reason relating to this very particularized fear. I'd say probably about 50 of the 60,000 have been resettled through that mechanism.
SCHWARTZAnother 10,000 have been resettled pursuant to the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act. Ten of the 60,000 more or less, which created new categories of eligible refugees for direct access to our program. Direct hire U.S. employees, employees of certain entities receiving U.S. funds, employees of U.S.-based media organizations or NOGs, certain family members of those employees, et cetera.
SCHWARTZBut you have to know of the larger group, the 50,000, many may be in that category as well. So that's a long-winded way of saying your question is very difficult to answer. But our goal -- let me just say and then I'll stop, our goal, frankly, is in addition to sustaining this important refugee resettlement program, our goal is to create conditions within Iraq which promote conditions within Iraq whereby people can return because there are about 1.3 million internally displaced persons in Iraq and about 200,000 in Jordan and Syria who are registered.
SCHWARTZAnd however more we do on resettlement, Kojo, that's not going to be the answer for the vast majority of Iraqis. So we spent this last year about $370 million in trying to promote, assist refugees in the region and promote the conditions for return.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz is an assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the U.S. State Department. He joins us by phone. Joining us by phone from the Caribbean is Kirk Johnson, founder and executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraq Allies. In studio is Ban Hameed, Iraqi caseload coordinator for The List Project at the law firm of Holland and Knight. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIHave you or your organization worked with Iraqis during the war? What was your experience? Do you know refugees who worked for the U.S. and were threatened because of their work? You can call us, 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDIThis question, both for you, Kirk and for Eric, as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year, are you seeing in an uptake in demand by Iraqis who want to resettle in the U.S.? First you, Kirk?
JOHNSONThe List Project absolutely is -- there is a process that's happening. It's not hard to predict, but, you know, as the size of military footprint shrinks in Iraq, our need and reliance upon Iraqis as interpreters also shrinks. And so, I think, a surfacing that is happening right now of Iraqis who are essentially being laid off because they're no longer needed and they're writing to us for help to try to get out before any harm occurs.
JOHNSONSo I see that accelerating over the coming year. We've been doing our best to refer cases to Secretary Schwartz and his bureau, although I worry that, you know, all of these great advances that have been undeniably made over the last few years.
JOHNSONI mean, when I started, there were sometimes one Iraqi a month being resettled. It's by all means an improvement, but what I worry about is that as this war comes to a close that that positive progress is going to be overshadowed by a new surge in need that can't be met by the current capacity.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz, the same question to you. What are you seeing in terms of an uptake in demand by Iraqis desiring to resettle in the U.S.?
SCHWARTZWell, first let me just say, Kojo, that, you know, I've told Kirk, as he knows, that he needs to keep the pressure on and he needs to keep at us because, you know, we're committed to the right thing. But the advocacy efforts of The List Project and others, I welcome. It makes our job a lot easier in government.
SCHWARTZAs it happens, we don't see a significant increase right now in the number of applications to this special program for those who are connected with the United States, but that doesn't matter. That doesn't matter. We have to be ready as -- I don't know if you're -- you may or may not know, but in 1996, when there was -- I managed at the -- when I was at the National Security Council, the evacuation of large numbers of Kurds from northern Iraq.
SCHWARTZI'm very sensitive to the fact that while we plan and prepare for the best, we have to also be prepared for outcomes that we don't, you know, that we're not planning for or that we're not hoping for or that all of our efforts aren't designed to create. To be sure our effort is to promote conditions for return and reintegration of the largest number of Iraqis possible, but we have to be ready for any eventuality.
SCHWARTZHappily, we have good infrastructure in the region. We have cooperative relationships with other governments in the region so I think while we plan and prepare for reconciliation, for return, for an Iraq which will meet the needs of the people of that country, we just have to remain vigilant.
NNAMDIAnd Eric, the operation you were referring to was Operation Pacific Haven in 1996, which you led trying to get Kurds out of the north because they were threatened by Saddam Hussein at that point. You see comparisons between what you were able to accomplish, moving more 6,000 Iraqi Kurds to Turkey then and what's maybe needed now?
SCHWARTZWell, I don't think that the requirement that we met in 1996 is needed right now. But I do think that episode, that event, demonstrated the capacity of the United States government to move quickly and smartly in circumstances that demanded such a reaction.
SCHWARTZI think, right now, we're -- number one, we're not seeing those kinds of threats and circumstances. And number two, again, we spent, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars trying to promote better conditions for returns both political reconciliation, but also better conditions for internally displaced persons. So all of our efforts are designed towards reconciliation. But, again, I think no responsible government doesn't think about a variety of scenarios. And I think we just have to keep our eye on the situation.
NNAMDIKirk Johnson, you first, then I'm going to Ban on this. I think I our perception of the security situation in Iraq is that it's much improved. We don't hear of daily bombings anymore, for starters. What kind of reports are you getting from the ground?
JOHNSONWell, you know, there's no question that the day to day violence is down from its peak in '60 and '07. There are still bombings at an alarming pace in Iraq and there's still a great deal of violence. There are less journalists there covering it. Most of the major media outlets have skimped down their bureaus or have dismantled their bureau. What I might respond to, though, with that is that if you're an Iraqi that has signed up to work for the United States government or for our military, the threats that you face are not pegged to a weekly trend line of violence. If it's down one month that doesn't mean that you're in less risk.
JOHNSONThe risk that these Iraqis have incurred by working for us, many of these Iraqis feel that this is a lethal stigma that will last a lifetime, if not generations. So, I think we need to be, you know, glad and hopeful that the security situation continues to improve in Iraq. But we shouldn't sort of muddy the waters in thinking that somehow our moral and strategic obligation to Iraqis are helping us somehow decreases with the violence.
NNAMDIBan, as a caseload coordinator for The List, your field calls every day from Iraqis who say they're getting threats because of their work for the U.S. What kinds of threats are we talking about and who is making those threats? Tell us a couple of stories.
HAMEEDWell, as you said, I'm receiving, you know, receiving a number of threats like almost every day and people calling, contacted me and say, like, militias, insurgents, Mahdi Army, al-Qaida, like, targeting them all the time. I received an e-mail like a few weeks ago from a sister of a U.S. affiliated Iraqi. And she received gunshots at her house because her brother used to work with U.S. Another story, also an Iraqi affiliated hiding, because he used to work with U.S., they killed his brother because his brother looks like him. So these kind of stories every day. Another story, a woman, like, e-mailed me and say they cut -- her kid has a pet and during the night, they woke up in the morning and saw they cut off the head of the dog because, it said, like, you have to leave this neighborhood. You're a betrayer. You are, you know, spies for the Americans.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that another of your clients who just arrived here had his baby kidnapped and drugged.
HAMEEDYes. He was six months old. They kidnapped his mom to come to the pharmacy to get him some medicines and they pulled him from her hand. And for a week, they wanted money and said, this is a punishment because your husband worked with the Americans.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz, let's talk about how Iraqis like Ban are coming to the U.S. How does the SIV or Special Immigrant Visa program work?
SCHWARTZLet me respond to that, Kojo. But first, let me just make, if I may, two quick comments about what you just heard. First, in terms of sustaining our commitment, last year we resettled about 18,000 Iraqis. We expect to resettle the same number this year and there are no plans of which I'm aware. And there were. I guess I would be aware of them. There are no plans of which I'm aware to diminish the U.S. commitment to resettlement. So that's the first point. The second is we work closely with The List Project and others, we have a deeply dedicated team in Iraq on refugee resettlement issues. I have a deeply dedicated team here in Washington to move on to more urgent cases. Our capacity to move is limited, but we do everything we can when people are in urgent risk to try to get them out of harm's way.
SCHWARTZIn terms of your question on the SIV program, we've resettled -- we resettled close to 60,000 through the Refugee Program. The SIV program, which is a special program for those who've worked with the United States, those numbers are much lower. We've resettled about, I'd say about 6,000 through the SIV program. The numbers for that program are smaller, but also it seems that applicants have an easier time -- seem in many cases -- to have an easier time accessing our Refugee Program than the SIV program in part because the requirements of the SIV program can be a little bit more exacting. And under the Refugee Program, applicants often can have a broader number of family members resettled with them. But I think we can do more to make better use of the SIV program.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we return, we'll continue this conversation on the challenges of resettling U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you a refugee who worked for the U.S. in your home country? You can call to tell us about your experience or simply send us a tweet @kojoshow or an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the challenges of resettling U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. We're talking with Eric Schwartz, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration at the U.S. State Department. He joins us by telephone. Also joining us by telephone is Kirk Johnson, founder and executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. In studio with us is Ban Hameed, Iraqi caseload worker for The List Project at the law firm of Holland & Knight. And now joining us in studio is Elizabeth Campbell, senior advocate at Refugees International. Elizabeth Campbell, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. ELIZABETH CAMPBELLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou have been spending a great deal of time in Iraq. You were traveling throughout the country early this year. Can you give us your perspective on the situation for refugees, especially the most vulnerable?
CAMPBELLSure, absolutely. I was there in January. And, you know, it's a very interesting place to travel. This is a country where, for all practical purposes, the Americans have quickly forgotten about. And yet it's a country that most American civilians still have absolutely no access to today. For diplomats, anyone from the government or from the United Nations, they continue to work behind the so-called green zone or international zone. They have no access to the communities they are supposed to serve and basically no real information coming from the ground. Continued insecurity, joblessness and lack of access to basic services. So this environment is compounding the targeted persecution that my colleagues were speaking about earlier today. So indeed it continues to be a severe situation, which unfortunately is quickly falling off the radar screen for many of the policymakers.
NNAMDIDo local Iraqis who work for the U.S. or the U.N. keep a pretty low profile generally or try to?
CAMPBELLWell, certainly that was the case at the height of the war in 2006 and 2007. That's fortunately changing. And there are certainly more access available inside of the country today than ever before. But there are certainly some Iraqis who will not identify themselves with the United Nations or with the U.S. government and that their safety and security depends very much on that. However, I would say that the conditions are changing and Refugees International really is encouraging international staff to get out into the field to be able to better assess the conditions.
NNAMDIFor some perspective, how does the U.S.'s refugee intake compare with Iraq's neighboring countries like Syria, Jordan?
CAMPBELLWell, Syria is hosting the large majority of the population. There's over 160,000 registered refugees there. They've played a very important role. And I have to say both the government and its people have been extraordinarily hospitable. Jordan has about 40,000 registered refugees today. And as was mentioned, about 60,000 have now been admitted to the U.S., but definitely, the major responsibility has been born by the region.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Want to talk a little bit process here, Eric Schwartz. The security and vetting process obviously must be thorough before anyone can resettle here. Can you give us an idea of the process Iraqis go through and where the bottlenecks are?
SCHWARTZWell, let me -- let me give you a general answer to that question, Kojo, if I may. And then, because I have to go off, if I could...
SCHWARTZ...say a few words before I leave, I'd love the opportunity to do that as well. Look, there are, you know, there are very legitimate and bona fide concerns about screening, security-related screening that all of our refugees have to go through. And in fact the integrity of our program, our ability to sustain and strengthen this program is wholly, is very much dependent on our capacity to tell members of Congress, those within the administration, and the American public that there are rigorous procedures in effect that involve the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and other agencies of the U.S. government.
SCHWARTZMy goal as assistant secretary of state is to ensure that those procedures are in place, but that they don't unnecessarily slow down the process. And that is an -- that results in an ongoing dialogue and discussion that I'm involved in with colleagues from these other agencies and we do everything we can to ensure that while we sustain the integrity of the program, we also don't create unnecessary delays. But the security screening process does slow the process down. There's just no getting around that.
NNAMDIBut haven't many of these Iraqis already gone through security clearance as part of their employment with the U.S.? Does that expedite the process?
SCHWARTZIt can certainly help the process. But it's not -- unfortunately, it's not a replacement for the procedures that we have in place. But as Elizabeth knows, as Kirk knows, as all of your panelists know because I deal with them and their friends and their collogues, we do everything we can here in the department to ensure that, you know, that we're not overly burdened with these requirements but that -- but at the same time we're ensuring that the process has integrity.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz, you wanted to say a few words before you left?
SCHWARTZIf I could, if I could. You know, Elizabeth's comment about conditions inside Iraq is so true, and it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to see the circumstances of half a million Iraqi IDPs, that's Internally Displaced Iraqis who live in squatter camps throughout the country. And in fact, our folks in Iraq do get out to visit these places and we are providing assistance and working not only with providing assistance, but we see our role as advocates also with the Iraqi government to ensure that they do better by way of these seriously affected communities. Over the next several months, I'll be out there in Iraq for the very, very same purpose.
SCHWARTZAnd in terms of our commitment, you know, we are going to sustain the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration and our colleague counter parts in USAID, we are going to sustain our efforts to promote this process of return and reconciliation even as we sustain our resettlement efforts that President Obama has said that this is important and it's certainly an important commitment on my end as well.
NNAMDIEric Schwartz is Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration at the U.S. Department of State. Thank you for joining us.
SCHWARTZMy pleasure, thank you.
NNAMDIStill with us is Kirk Johnson, founder and executive director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. Ban Hameed, Iraqi caseload coordinator for The List Project and Elizabeth Campbell, senior advocate at Refugees International. If you'd like to call us we still have a couple of lines open. Do you feel that the U.S. has an obligation to take of the nationals who help the U.S. in war zones? 800-433-8850. Here is Scott in Bladensburg, Md. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTHi, Kojo, thank you for taking my call.
SCOTTI want -- thank you. I wanted to address what Secretary Schwartz said about unnecessary delays. I was in Iraq for a year with the State Department serving in a provincial reconstruction team and we had an interpreter who had served 11 years in prison under Saddam Hussein. And he had saved an American soldier in a firefight and was rewarded for valor and we went through the special immigration process and got every T crossed, I dotted, letters from four star generals, letters of recommendation from everyone under the sun. Lori Logan from CBS did a story about him that aired on CBS. Everything we could possibly think of to do, we did. Submitted everything to everyone we could think of, law firm WilmerHale on Pennsylvania Avenue took up his case pro bono. And in three years, we didn't hear anything. So he's talking about unnecessary delays like he's punching these people through right and left, but that's certainly not the case.
NNAMDIThank you so very much for your call. I'm glad you brought that point up because, Kirk Johnson, I'm going to go to you next. Could you tell us a little bit about what happens after an Iraqi makes it onto your list and how you work with the State Department to get these people through the pipeline and try to avoid the kind of delays that Scott was talking about?
JOHNSONSure, and I'm glad he called in as well. This is -- these are the kinds of stories that we hear and we work through every day at The List Project. I think, you know, it bears to mention and Secretary Schwartz just touched on this that the State Department and he, they are not the only folks involved in refugee processing. So, you know, these cases sometimes just get stalled somewhere in this sort of black box of a resettlement program, where a name of an Iraqi who has served the U.S. government for years has to go through 24 different databases to make sure that nobody else has a name that seems similar to that, that might have a flag on it.
JOHNSONBut in real terms, this is what happens. If an Iraqi that's working for us as an interpreter, let's say, at the State Department today receives a death threat and goes to the embassy tomorrow and says, I need help. They're going to get me. They're going to kill me if I don't leave the country. He's looking at a minimum of about two to three months before his first interview by the U.S. government. And on average, I mean, we're seeing cases average out at about a year of waiting or so, where they go through interview after interview after interview. They're asked many situations the same question over and over again.
JOHNSONNow, I don't -- I'm not advocating that we suspend some kind of security process, but you have to kind of zoom out and ask a basic question of ourselves and of our nation here. That these are the most highly documented refugees on the face of the planet who have served with honor. They've helped our Marines, they've helped our diplomats, they've helped aid workers like myself. It's the best that we can do is a one year process to save their lives. You know, we're leaving Iraq. And it -- I refuse to believe that this is the best that we can do. And if it is, then I fear that some of the parting images of this war whether or not we see them are going to be our Iraqis left behind, abandoned and in many cases killed.
NNAMDIBan Hameed, once you take on a case, how long on average does it take before a refugee actually arrives in the U.S.?
HAMEEDIt depends on the case. Sometimes it's maximum. We give minimum, minimum a year. Maximum, I have a client they have been like three or four.
NNAMDIThree or four years?
HAMEEDYeah, two years or three years. I have a client been waiting to resettle here in the U.S. for two years now and he will arrive soon, you know. Next week, I think. But the delay is so, you know, slow.
NNAMDIKirk Johnson, if a listener wants to pressure somebody in government to improve this process, to whom should they make that phone call or e-mail or write to?
JOHNSONTo be totally honest, all of this goes to the White House at this point. As Secretary Schwartz is well aware when he worked at the White House, any time the United States government has decided that there are particular refugees that are of high priority, they haven't run them through this year-long or two-year-long process. They put them on airplanes and they've flown them to a military base. We frequently use Guam. We used it after Vietnam. We've used it since then in Operation Pacific Haven. But that's not something that somebody at the State Department or Homeland Security can initiate. The only person that does that is the President of the United States.
NNAMDIOkay. Scott, thank you very much for your call. We got this comment on our website by Madia. "These people risked everything and their lives for their beliefs. They have no place in their homeland because of that belief. They are disowned by their people, shunned by society in most cases. They have nowhere to go. Even if they make it through the red tape and the endless process, they arrive to the U.S. to be mostly left to their own devices with not much help beyond three or more months of meager monetary assistance.
NNAMDIMost of them end up jobless and suffer through the humiliating experience of resorting to do menial jobs to survive, their beliefs and their dreams of a better life going up rapidly into smoke." I don't know how true that is, but I know it might be able to -- you might be able to answer that in this question we're going to get from Carwon (sp?) in northern Virginia. Carwon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARWONYes. Thank you, Mr. Kojo Nnamdi, for your valuable program. I do appreciate you. First of all, I would like to start my speech. We do -- we are grateful about what the United States did in Iraq by changing the dictatorship. But that doesn't mean that we are totally agree. After what happened after the Iraqi (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDII know, but we don't have the time for a policy discussion, Carwon. It's my understanding that you had a question about the terms of service provided for Iraqis to come here.
CARWONYes. Yeah, yes. I have come to the United States since March of 2010, well, almost one year. So when we came here, all the service they did provide for us was four months in terms of the housing, which I think I'm not coming to this country by all wishes. Me, I was civil engineer in Iraq. Right now, I'm working in the -- as a technician for the soil (unintelligible) inspector on the job site. So barely I could found this job. So I think United States is responsible for us to provide us (unintelligible) the housing because Iraq was worried about the (word?) situation. But since we come to the United States, why worry about the financial hardship that we are facing it. Right now, I barely can live because, you know, the job -- the money that we are making it, it's not enough to be lived --
NNAMDICarwon, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. As I said, we're running short on time. Ban Hameed, does that story sound familiar?
HAMEEDYes. And he was lucky to have four months housing. Some Iraqis just have two weeks or one month housing or rent paid for (unintelligible) government agency paid for the rent for them.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of them, like Carwon, cannot resume the professions that they had in Iraq.
HAMEEDNo. They were lucky -- back home, they were easier to get a job because they have -- with their limited English language. But here, the requirements are much higher and lack of training. So it's not easy to find a job with their, you know, you know...
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation by talking about the level of security that is available for U.S. affiliated Iraqis in Iraq. But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the challenges of resettling Iraqis who are affiliated with the United States. Kirk Johnson is Founder and Executive Director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. Ban Hameed is Iraqi Caseload Coordinator for The List Project at the law firm of Holland and Knight. And Elizabeth Campbell also joins us in studio. She is Senior Advocate at Refugees International. Elizabeth, in a recent report you wrote that an initiative between international agencies and the Iraqi government has helped thousands of religious minorities return home safely. Are there positive signs, if you will, that the Iraqi government is able to protect its most vulnerable citizens, or can they only do it with international support?
CAMPBELLI mean, unfortunately at this particular juncture I think the international support is absolutely critical. You know, the government has barely been formed and it really is not functioning at all. So the international support is critical. That's why the U.S. resources are important to continue that effort. As I said earlier, there's finally an opening to actually be able to achieve concrete results on the ground. And if some of the budget cuts that Congress has been proposing go through it will absolutely undermine U.S. foreign policy interests in Iraq, which are peace and reconciliation.
CAMPBELLSo indeed there have been great efforts to help internally displaced people, including religious minorities return to areas that were extraordinarily violent. And they're doing this for relatively a cheap amount of money. It's not a huge amount of resources if we think about what the war spending effort was. So for a few hundred million dollars the U.S. government through international organizations can help facilitate peace and reconciliation. They're doing this. If this effort stops I don't think the government of Iraq will be able to continue.
JOHNSONKojo, if I...
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Kirk Johnson.
JOHNSONI'm sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to echo what Elizabeth is saying, but also to just say to your listeners -- and we've been at war now for a decade nearly. We've been in Iraq for much longer than I think anybody wanted us to be there. And frankly, nations, and especially the United States, I -- people are tired of this war, right? So I can imagine a lot of people listening to this, they're just hearing more frustrating news and it just sort of (unintelligible) with what they've been hearing for years.
JOHNSONI think what The List Project, what Refugees International and others have been arguing for is that we don't make the mistake that we and many countries make at the end of their wars, at the end of these occupations. That we just sort of, in our exhaustion, stop paying attention to the important things sort of in our haste to just get out.
JOHNSONAnd so I -- and that's why every high schooler in this country has seen the photographs of the Saigon rooftop scenes. We are -- our country has been forever changed by what happened in the refugee crisis following the end of Vietnam. And I guess my only point is just to say we can't give up on this yet. I'm not saying we stay in Iraq forever but let's just not lose focus here on some of the gains that we've made by (unintelligible) fatigue, if that makes any sense.
NNAMDIKirk, what drove you to start The List Project and to take on cases like Ban's?
JOHNSONIt was -- I mean, frankly it was one Iraqi colleague of mine that he was a colleague of Ban's as well. He had been working for aid for years and he got identified as he was walking out of the (sounds like) green zone one day by a militia member. The next day he emerged to find the severed head of a dog on his front steps with a note pinned to it saying that his head would be next. And when he brought that threat letter to the (sounds like) U.S.I.D., to the U.S. government, they basically told him, wow, that's rough. You know, good luck and it was -- then I realized -- it was just 2006 -- that the U.S. government had no system in place. This was not on their radar. They didn't want it on their radar. And we were essentially just using these people up and abandoning them when the threats materialized.
NNAMDIAnd, Elizabeth, you brought up the issue of the cost of the war. I think Nathan in Haymarket, Va. has a comment along those lines. Nathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATHANYeah, I know that she's right that we spent too much on the war and things, that for the amount of money that we spent on this war we could've moved every family in Iraq to the United States and have given them $80,000 to live here. The real problem is the cowardice of the American people, the cowardice of the American government to bring foreigners into our country. This is an immigration issue as well. This is a real tragedy.
NATHANWe could have a new foreign policy where we go out to all the different countries where there are innocents dying and say, look, who wants to go to America? Bring them here. That way we don’t have to cite a war there, we end the death of innocents and it's a radical new foreign policy. That brings peace to the world and opportunity to the innocents.
NNAMDINathan, thank you very much for your call. Here is Cassandra in Silver Spring, Md. Cassandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CASSANDRAHi. Thank you, Kojo. Two questions. Are there not lessons to be learned from previous wars that our country has engaged in where there was a huge issue of refugees and collaborators and what to do with them? I cite for example Vietnam, El Salvador, and I cite the exception of the poor Haitians. But the bottom line is are you all drawing lessons from the success stories in those communities once war has ended and peace has been made with those countries by our government?
CASSANDRAMy second question is, how does a person like me, an unemployed PhD get engaged in this process of refugee resettlement, whether it's Iraqis, which of course is assailant community that we're trying to assist, or other refugee communities coming to this country? (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIHere's Elizabeth Campbell.
CASSANDRA...very difficult to engage in that process unless you are in a law firm or in the government. I'd like to know what you're looking for in the way of qualifications.
CAMPBELLSure. To answer your first question, we're absolutely drawing on historical lessons. We believe that the United States has a special responsibility and a moral commitment to finish the job, by which we mean the humanitarian responsibility. So this job is not over, it's far from over. We need the U.S. Congress to bipartisan support to put the resources where they're needed to be able to finish the job. And we need the continued support from Secretary Schwartz and his staff. So absolutely, we have a historic record of engaging in responsible humanitarian decision making and we would hope that it would be applied and not forgotten in this situation.
CAMPBELLIn terms of engagement, there's over 350 local resettlement agencies across the country in almost every state. And I would urge you to be engaged with one of those local organizations who absolutely depend on volunteers like yourself to help these newcomers resettle into communities.
JOHNSONAnd if I could jump in.
JOHNSONSure. Just a couple finer points on the historical parallels. If you read through the discussion that has since been declassified of President Ford and Henry Kissinger, the United States government (unintelligible) the White House did not turn its attention to the Vietnamese that had helped the United States until the final couple months of the war, talking March, April 1975. Kissinger is quoted as saying that there were 174,000 high priority, you know, critical South Vietnamese that helped us but by that point it was already too late. And many, many of these South Vietnamese were killed that ultimately resulted in letting in a lot of Vietnamese into our borders, happened in reaction to the catastrophe of a lack of planning. So that's one parallel that I draw from.
JOHNSONOne other sort of more historical thing, which I just wanted to touch on, which is, you know, a lot of Americans this might seem like some foreign or some, you know, remote issue. But I would just encourage them to think back to our own history and at the end of the American Revolution, Americans were forming militias going around looking for loyalists that had sided with the Brits during that war. And so in 1783 the British Empire sent hundreds of ships to New York and throughout the eastern coast and we ferried out -- they ferried out tens of thousands of loyalists to Canada, to elsewhere. And, you know, the only reason I bring that up is that the was 225 years ago and I think now in the 21st Century, the United States government is still -- hasn't caught up with what the British Empire of 1783 was able to do. To me I think we can do better.
JOHNSONThe other thing -- to your other point, if folks are interested in helping specifically U.S. affiliated Iraqis, if they go to thelistproject.org we have a system there called net roots where there are List Project chapters throughout the U.S. And you can meet other Americans who are trying to help, but you can also more importantly connect with Iraqis on The List who have been resettled to your state or city.
NNAMDICassandra, thank you for your call. Good luck to you. Here is Ann in Baltimore, Md. Ann, your turn.
ANNYes, thank you for taking my call. I just was hoping that your guests could talk a little bit more about how these refugees are actually working with these nonprofits in the United States once they're resettled in the United States. I think there's a misconception that they have more interaction with the U.S. government once they arrive here when in fact I think they're a little displaced from that system once they arrive here and they're forced to work with nonprofit organizations that are dealing with refugees from several countries at one time.
NNAMDIElizabeth Campbell, can you speak to that?
CAMPBELLSure. That's right. I mean, the entire refugee resettlement process is dependent upon nine national refugee resettlement agencies that, as I mentioned, have affiliates in almost every state across the country. And as some of the callers have said, you know, the program, the domestic program is facing a crisis. Indeed, there are not enough resources, there's not enough support and there's not enough opportunities for Iraqis and other refugees to effectively begin to rebuild their lives. That said, what is extraordinary about the program is that it's based on volunteers. It's based on your every day American who reaches out and tries to find ways to help Iraqis and others.
CAMPBELLThat's pretty extraordinary that you have, you know, basically in a country that has a very heated debate about immigration, scores, countless volunteers who are basically opening their homes, their hearts and their pocketbooks to complete strangers. So, indeed, it is the community at a very local level who are doing the active resettlement and that's basically based on good hearted volunteers that Kirk works with, that his colleagues work with and that these other organizations I've mentioned work with. So, absolutely, if you're interested in working with Iraqis or any other refugee population, reach out to these organizations and offer your assistance.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're running out of time very quickly but, Elizabeth, there have been some high profile efforts recently by the Iraqi government to bring its citizens back, especially as other Middle Eastern governments have been dissolving from protests. Do you see efforts like this being either convincing or successful?
CAMPBELLUnfortunately I don't think they'll be successful. Many of those people who may have benefited from some of the flights and, you know, short term payments I do not think have any plans to stay. And that's because of insecurity, that's because of lack of access to basic services. You're talking about a country that sits on a lake of oil that cannot provide electricity to its citizens in Baghdad. And it's also because of no jobs. So people will return to some of those countries of asylum. It's not what we would call a durable solution. Durable solutions mean long term investments in creating the conditions where people will return and stay home in a safe and secure way.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Join us at noon on Thursday for a look at how resettled Iraqis are adjusting to life in the U.S. We'll talk to those who are helping refugees navigate the challenges of daily life and hear from a local Iraqi who dedicates his days to helping his countrymen. That's at noon on Thursday. In our studio Elizabeth Campbell, the Senior Advocate at Refugees International. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIBan Hameed is Iraqi Caseload Coordinator for The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies at the law firm of Holland and Knight. Thank you for joining us.
HAMEEDIt's a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Kirk Johnson, speaking of lists, is the Founder and Executive Director of The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. Kirk, I know you wouldn't do it yourself but you have been compared to Oscar Schindler in your efforts to bring U.S. affiliated Iraqis over to the U.S. You're too modest to make that comparison yourself, but others have and so I'd like to say thank you and good luck.
JOHNSONThanks. I don't know what to say to that.
NNAMDIKirk Johnson, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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