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New U.S. Security Checks for Iraqis Seeking Asylum

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New U.S. Security Checks for Iraqis Seeking Asylum

Iraq

New U.S. Security Checks for Iraqis Seeking Asylum

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This week, the Department of Homeland Security rolled out a new system of security checks for Iraqi refugees who want to settle in the United States. The government hopes the procedures will help it meet a pledge to take in 7,000 refugees from Iraq by September 30th. So far, only a fraction of that number had made it into the country.

Bill Frelick is director of refugee policy for Human Rights Watch. He joins us in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. BILL FRELICK (Refugee Policy Director, Human Rights Watch): A pleasure to be here.

YDSTIE: Describe the enhanced screening procedures that Homeland Security rolled out this week.

Mr. FRELICK: Well, I did meet with Homeland Security officials earlier this week to discuss the enhancements. It essentially is using a fine-toothed comb to go through and check, double check, triple check, probably in this case, quadruple check the applications of people who, in many cases, based their claims on having worked for the Americans in Iraq.

YDSTIE: Since 2003, the U.S. is only taking in about 700 Iraqi refugees. This year, only 69 have been admitted. Are the White House Department of Homeland Security and the State Department all on the same page with regard to Iraqi refugee policy?

Mr. FRELICK: I think not. I mean, I think that there actually are different objectives that the different agencies of government have. The prime directive of the Department of Homeland Security is the security of the homeland. The State Department is very much engaged and involved in the question of stabilization of the region in the Middle East and wanting to relieve the burden on Jordan and Syria in particular, who are faced with 2 million refugees but we're a long, long way from doing anything that meaningfully relieves the burden on those countries. It is a conflict within the mandates of the departments of the U.S. government.

YDSTIE: Considering that more than 2 million people have fled the fighting in Iraq, the 7,000 number that the U.S. is committed to bringing in seems relatively modest.

Mr. FRELICK: It's quite modest actually. And there are another two million Iraqis that are internally displaced inside the country that haven't fled yet.

YDSTIE: What's the U.S. traditional policy when it's involved in conflict in another country? Let's say Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Europe.

Mr. FRELICK: The U.S. has a very long and strong tradition of helping its friends particularly when a foreign policy venture has failed and people are in harm's way as a result of that. The U.S. brought out more than a million refugees from Southeast Asia.

YDSTIE: So the U.S.' apparent reluctance to bring in Iraqi refugees is a change from traditional policy?

Mr. FRELICK: Well, it's a change, actually, within our policy with regard to Iraq itself because in 1991, when the U.S. did engage in the war with Iraq and refugees were produced as a result of that war in both the Kurdish north and Shia south, the United States did resettle refugees in significant numbers at that time. So this really stands in contrast to what the United States has done even on behalf of Iraqi refugees in the past, not to mention Vietnamese and others.

YDSTIE: Bill Froelich is director of refugee policy at Human Rights Watch. Thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. FRELICK: It's my pleasure being here.

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YDSTIE: This is NPR News.

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