US Must Rescue Kurds Who Trusted US Employers
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In recent weeks Iraqi agents have searched the offices of private American humanitarian organizations, looking for their personnel files; computers have been confiscated; local staff questioned and threatened. On Oct. 13, a local driver for Concern for Kids, an Atlanta-based charity, was dragged from a vehicle, beaten, stabbed, doused with gasoline, and torched. The "official" report of the incident called it a suicide attempt. Local authorities arrested the victim and threw him in jail, where he now remains.Skip to next paragraph
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This is not an isolated incident. Four days later, a driver for the International Catholic Migration Commission was shot in the head.
The State Department has suggested that the risk to Kurdish employees of American aid organizations is not great enough to warrant their evacuation. How many shootings and stabbings will it take before the critical mass is reached?
The biggest obstacle may, in fact, be the Justice Department, home of the FBI and the INS, the immigration service. They are reluctant to admit to the US refugees who have not been thoroughly screened. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to turn any bad apples back to Iraq.
In the past, this wouldn't have been a problem. Large flows of refugees would congregate in camps in Thailand, Pakistan, or elsewhere. The US would help to maintain the camps, where most refugees would stay until it became safe to go home. The US would resettle those who would never be able to go home, oftentimes people associated with our government either directly or indirectly through involvement with private American organizations.
Only option short of arms
Today the people most in need of our help are cornered. Temporary refuge is no longer an option. We don't have the luxury of slow and cautious screening in Turkey or another neighboring country. Now the only option - short of a renewed US military intervention (a delusion more than an option) - is to evacuate the approximately 4,000 additional Kurdish employees who are most vulnerable.
US officials are uncomfortable bringing evacuees directly to US territory. But the US organizations that worked in northern Iraq can vouch for their employees. The Americans trusted their local staff with their lives. They can personally identify each name on their lists, if need be, at the Turkish border before each person leaves the country.
We wish any Iraqi Kurd who feared for his or her life could simply cross into Turkey. We wish the US were able to take the slow and deliberate approach in choosing those in need of US resettlement.
Perhaps, when this emergency has passed, we can work on the formidable job of reconstructing a refugee response regime that provides for temporary asylum and international burden-sharing. But time is rapidly running out. We painted ourselves into this corner in 1991. We owe it to those who trusted us, who worked with us, who are identified with us, and who who have no place else to go, to get them out.
Bill Frelick is a senior policy analyst at the US Committee for Refugees in Washington.