Advocacy group calls on Obama to appoint Iraqi refugee coordinator

Matthew Hay Brown at the Baltimore Sun alerts us to a campaign on behalf of Iraqi refugees by Human Rights First, an advocacy organization that supports worthwhile causes and not-so-worthwhile ones. It calls oppressive governments to account, but seems to lump the U.S. government in with those of Sudan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, etc. in needing their oversight in order to preserve human rights. (I’ve just skimmed their website so I’m open to correction on this, but putting an amicus brief on behalf of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on a par with stopping arms to Sudan and Zimbabwe is just a bit unhinged, isn’t it?)

Some of their ideas on Iraqi refugees have merit; others are off. Their press release  calls on “President-elect Obama to fulfill his campaign’s commitment to confront the Iraqi refugee crisis by strengthening oversight and effectiveness of refugee assistance, ensuring that the Iraqi government refrains from pressuring refugees to return home before they can do so in safety, and placing a coordinator for Iraqi refuges in the White House.”

The coordinator would be “responsible for ensuring that appropriate policy toward Iraqi refugees is integrated into U.S. strategic and operational plans in Iraq. The position was first proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.”

That’s kind of a neutral recommendation. Its merit would depend on what the coordinator was supposed to do. Here’s some of it.

The blueprint also urges the U.S. government to set “refugee benchmarks” for the Iraqi government and for U.S. assistance to shift from the government to NGOs if those benchmarks are not met. The benchmarks would require the Iraqi government to acknowledge that return of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees should be voluntary and to discuss more flexible visa policies for refugees with its neighbors.

I wonder in what way the government of Iraq is forcing the return of IDPs and refugees. And here’s the part I really have questions about:

In the past year, the Iraqi government has started a media campaign promoting refugee return and has organized return flights for refugees. Amelia Templeton, refugee policy analyst for Human Rights First, discussed the implications of the campaign with refugee families in Syria on a recent trip to the region in October.

“Security has improved in Iraq today,” says Templeton “but many refugees fear what might happen tomorrow. They’re looking for some measure of political stability.”

Templeton also noted that many refugees view the current return campaign as propaganda. “The government of Iraq should focus on providing humanitarian aid and accurate information to refugees and the internally displaced,” says Templeton.

It sounds like Templeton has her own agenda. Of course refugees fear what will happen tomorrow — who wouldn’t? Refugees are weighing what to do: Would they do better back in Iraq or as refugees? Is it safe in the part of Iraq they came from? Will they have a job? An organization trying to help the refugees would help them answer or solve these questions, and perhaps help Iraq’s government come up with solutions to the problems of jobs and housing. But it doesn’t sound as if Human Rights First is too interested in helping the refugees return home. Or maybe I’m just cranky. But it does seem as if this group is of a piece with the entire left in not wanting to give the U.S. any credit for making things better in Iraq. If the refugees could return home that would be a sign of improvement.

Oh, wait. We’re getting a new president. As soon as Obama takes the reins the situation in Iraq will miraculously improve; just wait and see.

Terrorists could pose as refugees or asylees says Homeland Security

A five year threat assessment released by the Department of Homeland Security recently points a finger at refugees from Africa, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as potential terrorists entering the US.  It also cites so-called homegrown terrorists  as a possible threat.

From AP yesterday:

Terrorists will continue to try to evade U.S. border security measures and place operatives inside the mainland to carry out attacks, the 38-page assessment said. It also said that they may pose as refugees or asylum seekers or try to exploit foreign travel channels such as the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 34 countries to enter the U.S. without visas.

Long waits for immigration and more restrictive European refugee and asylum programs will cause more foreigners to try to enter the U.S. illegally. Increasing numbers of Iraqis are expected to migrate to the U.S. in the next five years; and refugees from Somalia and Sudan could increase because of conflicts in those countries, the assessment said.

Because there is a proposed cap of 12,000 refugees from Africa, officials expect more will try to enter the U.S. illegally as well. Officials predict the same scenario for refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Intelligence officials predict the pool of radical Islamists within the U.S. will increase over the next five years due partly to the ease of online recruiting means. Officials foresee “a wave of young, self-identified Muslim ‘terrorist wannabes’ who aspire to carry out violent acts.”

Whew it’s a good thing that border fence is nearing completion!   Then we just halt all Muslim immigration for awhile and we should be (mostly) safe.

And, no wonder those Texas Somali asylees are getting the third degree.

Somali mosques must be scrutinized says Muslim leader

This is the latest report I’ve seen on the missing Minneapolis Somali youths.  The Minnesota Independent begins its story with the personal account of a missing Somali American.

Burhaan Hassan was a fairly typical kid, the kind who asked his mother for $20 when he wanted to go see a movie on weekends. But on Election Day, while much of the world — including his single mother — was consumed by the historic election, he and a handful of Somali-American teenagers quietly boarded a plane to Kenya, en route to the front lines of a Jihad in Somalia.

Hassan, 17, wasn’t working and couldn’t afford the expensive airfare, said his uncle, Hussein Samatar, an immigrant from Somalia who now runs the African Development Group of Minnesota. “We believe someone — some group — has paid for his ticket,” he said.

I couldn’t find any formal website for the African Development Group of Minnesota but I noticed that Samatar is a fan of Obama’s (no surprise there).

The article continues about al-Shabaab and its US recruitment compaign apparently aiming for those with US Passports.

A United Nations investigation recently uncovered evidence that extremist groups in Somalia have ratcheted up their online recruiting and fundraising capabilities. Among other things, the U.N. Monitoring Group, which is tasked with monitoring weapons flowing to Somalia, found that members of Al-Shabaab (“The Youth”), a Somali group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, have “intensified their cyber activities.”

The U.N. report notes that, unlike more moderate Islamist groups in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has relatively young leaders, some from Western countries, in its ranks. Obscure young jihadists with foreign passports have greater mobility — a key advantage over more well-known leaders, experts believe.

Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College in North Carolina, said recruiting Somalis with foreign passports would have “some advantages if [Al-Shabaab] intends to attack sites outside Somalia.”

The Somali leaders of the 70,000-strong Somali community in Minnesota are pointing the finger of blame at one local mosque in particular—the Abubkar As-Saddique Islamic Center (AAIC) and are calling for more scrutiny of mosques!

Before these teenagers went missing, youth programs at mosques went minimally scrutinized, complained some community leaders. To address this, Adam, the Daral-Hijra Center director, urges mosque leaders to introduce greater oversight on youth activities.

Sounds like a plan!  I hope our FBI is thinking along the same lines.

You can see all of the links to posts on this story here.   Also, be sure to see our original research on the number of Somalis who have entered the US under the Refugee Resettlement program here.

Media busy visiting Iraqi churches on Christmas

Yesterday I posted on an AP article about a Chaldean church in Baghdad. Christmas in Iraq proves to be a popular story line with the media.  I found two other stories about churches in Baghdad celebrating Christmas: one from McClatchy about a Greek Orthodox church and one from Time magazine about a “Catholic” church. The latter shows special ignorance. What kind of Catholic? Assyrian? Chaldean? Roman? Reporters learned to differentiate between Sunni and Shia Muslims, but since Catholics aren’t attacking each other I guess some of them can’t be bothered to figure out the different Iraqi churches.

At any rate, it’s nice to see attention paid to Christians in Iraq, and the human interest stories are good. But it would also be good if the reporters dug a little deeper. We get information about the government’s efforts (from  McClatchy):

The government of Iraq has tried to telegraph a message that the country is safe enough for Christian refugees to return this year.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki touted security improvements in a July meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Iraq Interior Minister Jawad Bolani this week hosted a Christmas celebration in the city’s Karrada neighborhood where a man dressed up like Santa Claus mingled with children wearing traditional Iraqi clothing.

A banner at the outdoor party read, “Christians are part of the Iraqi people.”

And the obligatory “but” —

High profile attacks against Christians, particularly in the northern city of Mosul, test that message.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that as many 2,000 Christian families fled that city in October after a series of killings. Some began to return a month later with the help of $800 cash grants from the Iraqi government to help them resettle.

Haven’t we learned by now that Iraq isn’t a monolithic place, and that violence has been dealt with area by area? The situation in Mosul is not the same as that in Baghdad or other places. It doesn’t detract from the achievements in Baghdad that the entire county isn’t pacified yet. 

The Time article doesn’t bother with Mosul. It’s all warmhearted human interest with this tacked on at the end:

As the congregants headed home, a car bomb exploded in Shula, a predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood northwest of Mansur, the AP reported. The bomb appeared to have been targeted at the Iraqi police.

That’s just so we don’t think things are actually much better, I guess; I don’t know what other relevance it could have. But the parts that really need more background are those on the Christian refugees who have left Iraq.  From the McClatchy article:

Yacob said the exodus won’t reverse until Christians feel they can hold steady jobs in the Muslim country.

“They won’t listen if I say turn back and I don’t provide them with jobs and security,” he said.

A church member said it feels safe enough now, but he isn’t sure it will last.  The Time article points out what we’ve been saying:

“I’m asking all the Christian brothers to come back and rebuild the new Iraq,” [the priest] told his audience, adding that he had stayed through the worst years of the violence, during which he took on the leadership of two additional churches whose priests had fled. After the service, others in the congregation echoed his pride.

“My sister and her family are in America now as humanitarian refugees in Chicago. But they feel like strangers there, and they miss this atmosphere,” says Ghassan Khudher, a pediatrician who has attended Mar Yousif on Christmas for the past 10 years. “Here there is still fear for our families and our children,” he says to me. “But I don’t like being outside [Iraq], because your country is not like Iraq.”

Reporters are welcome to consult RRW for information on Iraqi refugees in the U.S. Just search “Iraqi” and “jobs”  or “Iraqi” and “unemploy” and you’ll find a lot of stories about how difficult it is for Iraqi refugees here, culturally and economically. A common thread has been that people who were professionals in Iraq can’t work in their fields here, though the refugee agencies promised them streets paved with gold. And of course many of the refugees miss their own culture and country.

Looking back: Refugee Resettlement had a covert side

The purpose of RRW is to help the public understand the Refugee Resettlement Program that exists today thanks to the Kennedy/Biden/Carter Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980, but as readers know we have been bringing refugees to America for a long long time before 1980.  Here is a lengthy and fascinating article about how refugees were used in the Cold War as covert agents. 

It begins:

BAD AROLSEN, Germany – In the locked attic of a German archive is a dusty file that harks back to a long forgotten chapter of the Cold War — a humanitarian endeavor that, it now emerges, also had a covert side.

Marked “Escapee Program,” it contains a list of thousands of names of people who, through cunning, bravery and luck, slipped through the Iron Curtain that divided Europe after World War II and found freedom in the West.

President Harry Truman’s administration launched the program in 1952 to rehabilitate and resettle refugees from Eastern Europe, feting them as heroes who defied communist tyranny.

Recently declassified U.S. documents disclose that, from the start, the program went beyond giving them new lives and sought to use them for intelligence and propaganda. Some were offered money to be smuggled back to their home countries to gather information on Soviet military defenses and public attitudes toward the communist regimes that had replaced Hitler’s Nazi occupiers.

Of course some of those never got back here alive.

The article made me think of the Uzbeks we were bringing to cities like Boise, ID.  Last spring I wrote about the 2006 mysterious deaths of two Uzbek Muslim men in Boise, here.    At the time I wrote that story, someone knowledgeable about the Andijan Uprising from which these men were escaping, told me that the CIA flew the “refugees” here.  I’ve never heard another word about why these refugees are now going back to Uzbekistan.

Back in the 1970’s it came to my attention that an environmental group for which I worked was doing some dual purpose “wildlife studies” in odd corners of the world.  It dawned on me then how ‘do-gooder’ projects are wonderful cover for other less savory projects.