In Focus: The British Plan to Airlift 1,500 Iraqi Refugees

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Last week, we first highlighted Britain’s announcement to airlift 1,500 Iraqis (British armed forces interpreters and their families) to the United Kingdom. Because this is such an important development in addressing the Iraqi refugee situation, it is necessary to provide a more in-depth examination of the topic.

According to a UPI article from February 16, interpreters must prove that they worked for British personnel for 12 continuous months to be eligible. The provision also requires that Iraqis show that they worked with British personnel since 2005.

Iraqis granted asylum will receive free housing and benefits to assist in the resettlement process. Ishbel Matheson of Minority Rights Group International penned an op-ed on the resettlement plan in which she described a British precedent for taking in thousands of refugees during the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts. Matheson goes on argue that the plan does not go far enough and charges that it is an attempt by the British government to deflect negative criticism associated with the Iraq War. Regardless of the motivations behind Britain’s new policy, this is clearly a step in the right direction.

This week EU lawmakers released a report that seemed to support increased assistance to resettling Iraqi refugees in Europe:

The EU should make it easier for Iraqis to find refuge in its member states and scrap “arbitrary criteria to granting protection and prevent any forced return,” the report said.

And in a congressional hearing on Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman William Delahunt had strong words regarding America’s obligation to do more:

“This sad reality imposes a moral responsibility on this administration and this congress, for we cannot deny that the proximate cause of this human tragedy is the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.”

With the British airlift due to commence in April, and increasing sentiment that we cannot continue to turn our backs on Iraqi allies, it is time that we turn rhetoric into policy. Everyday that we delay, Iraqi allies who risked their lives to help American colleagues are in greater danger. Perhaps a US-sponsored airlift in the near future is the only way to reach the State Department’s stated goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees into the US for FY 2008.


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