Support Iraqi refugees

By Lauren Silberman

A few days before July 4, 2006, Iraqi insurgents murdered a close Iraqi friend of my brother’s. He was working for an American NGO that educated Iraqis about democracy. For working with the U.S., he was hunted down before he could escape the country he loved.
Approximately 100,000 Iraqis are similarly threatened, tortured, raped, or killed for being perceived as “collaborators” with the United States. Despite these dangers, Iraqis who believe in the benefits of democracy secretly offer their services to the United States as interpreters for the military, as civil society experts for federal agencies, and as employees of U.S. organizations striving to rebuild Iraq. However, one small mistake can reveal these Iraqis’ identities and put them at risk. Thousands of them now live in refugee camps with nowhere to go and no one to help them.

The Twin Cities have opened their arms to thousands of refugees from other areas such as Somalia and Laos/Thailand. We should be an example to the rest of the country by pressuring the federal government to rescue more of these Iraqis and resettle them here.
In December of 2006, Kirk Johnson, the founder of The List Project, compiled a list of 1,000 Iraqis who helped the United States, but now face life-threatening situations because of their collaboration. The United States processed only 40 of these Iraqis.
The State Department claims that it has not allowed more Iraqi refugees to enter the U.S. because of time consuming background and security checks. Rather than using this as an excuse, the government needs to speed up the process. For many of these refugees, Johnson gathered proof of employment with the United States or photos of the Iraqis shaking hands with the American ambassador. Although these may not provide enough proof, they are at least a starting point to make the checks more time efficient. If the background checks continue at their current rate, our Iraqi friends will not survive.

Some opposition to the List Project argues that these Iraqis who believe so strongly in democracy and stable government are needed more at this time in Iraq and thus should not be taken into the United States. However, they are being persecuted or are living in exile and will not have any influence on Iraqi government. If the United States wants to be able to rely on these people to bring democracy to Iraq in the future, it must grant them a safe-haven now while their country is unreceptive and chaotic.

Minneapolis-St. Paul exemplifies the excellent safe haven that the United States can provide our deserving Iraqi allies. The Twin Cities have a wealth of resources for Iraqi refugees that most other American cities do not have. Minneapolis-St. Paul is home to over 100 other refugee-focused organizations. The area has a community where over 4 percent of adults volunteer, and it boasts one of the largest refugee populations in the U.S. Within this large refugee population, the presence of a vast community of Hmong refugees displays the Twin Cities’ ability to protect refugees in a period of war. More than anything, the Iraqi refugee allies need a safe-haven, which we can and should provide. They require minimal resources and a home where they can walk in broad daylight without fear.
The time to act is now. The longer the government takes to process Iraqi refugees, the more our allies, who have helped us significantly in the war, are being threatened or killed. The citizens of Minneapolis and St. Paul must demand that the US government rescue our Iraqi allies. Let us use our resources on the refugees who helped us in the United States. Contact your congressman. Take five minutes to join the Minnesota branch of the Netroots (http://netroots.thelistproject.org/), the List Project’s online database that organizes to fight for this issue. We must prove that the Twin Cities can continue to be welcoming and supportive of refugees worldwide, especially to those refugees who have supported us. Contact Lauren Silberman ’12 at [email protected]