Britain to resettle its Iraqi interpreters
As troops withdraw from Iraq, Britain on Tuesday promised resettlement aid to employees.
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As Tahar himself puts it: "I don't know if I will have to go to Lebanon or to Amman or if I will have to go back to Basra air station and stay there until they lift me up." He adds that resettlement in the region is a not an option. "If I resettle in another neighboring country, it will be very easy for them [militants] to find me and I will be dead."Skip to next paragraph
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Resettlement more likely than asylum
The Times newspaper, which has spearheaded the asylum campaign, says the outcome is heavily loaded in favor of resettling Iraqis in the region rather than offering asylum. Senior international affairs editor Richard Beeston says the Home Office was strongly opposed to allowing "hundreds, possibly thousands of ex-Iraqi employees and their families to settle in Britain."
"They fear a precedent will be set that could allow refugees from around the world's trouble spots to claim the same rights," he says, while adding that there was still some cause for celebration. "Several hundred Iraqis, who a few weeks ago faced a very bleak future as the British withdraw, can now look forward to some compensation for their loyal service.
Refugee groups argue that a few dozen interpreters are just a drop in the ocean of refugees that have spilled westward from Iraq into Syria and Jordan. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has been urging countries like Britain to increase the numbers of refugees that it takes from Iraq.
UN figures show that half of all Iraqi asylum applications in the first half of the year – 9,300 – were registered in Sweden. Britain by contrast fielded 580 applications. The majority of asylum requests in Britain are being turned down, official figures show, and some asylum seekers are being returned to Iraq. The US originally said it would resettle 7,000 Iraqis this year, but that number has since been reduced to 2,000, with processing times of up to 10 months.
Those numbers vanish alongside the enormity of the Iraq refugee crisis. More than 2 million are estimated to have fled the country, and another 2 million are internally displaced within Iraq itself. Most of those who have left the country languish in limbo in neighboring countries. Around 1.4 million are in Syria and 750,000 in Jordan.
"Syria and Jordan are carrying a hugely disproportionate burden, and that's not being recognised," says Peter Kessler, a UNHCR spokesman. "Clearly much more has to be done to share responsibility for Iraqis who are fleeing the country and to support the Syrian and Jordanian governments."
Sherif Elsayed-ali, the head of Amnesty International's refugee and migrant rights team, adds that Western governments, "especially the ones that took part in the US-led invasion, have specific responsibility to do more to resettle more refugees." Porteous notes that apart from the moral obligation, the large contingent of refugees presents the threat of greater instability and radicalization in the region.
Tahar meanwhile faces the prospect of trying to make his money last a few more weeks while he waits for details of how to apply for asylum. "I've been here for seven months; I can hold on for a few more weeks," he says. But what of the future beyond that and his prospects for acclimatizing to British life and weather?
This reporter tells him it's been raining for days. "I like rain," he says. "It's very hot here."