Iraqi refugees still face hurdles in coming to U.S.

On Tuesday, Human Rights First (HRF) released its assessment of the implementation of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008. CPJ supported the legislation, which created a category known as P2 (priority 2) for direct resettlement of Iraqi refugees with U.S. affiliations, including employees of U.S.-based media. The act promised a lifeline to Iraqi journalists, among other eligible groups, who have been targeted and killed in record numbers. However, CPJ shares the concerns detailed in the HRF white paper about the lengthy delays applicants are facing throughout this process. 

According to HRF, only 9 percent of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who applied to the U.S. refugee admissions program, including journalists, have arrived in the U.S. The group estimates the entire P2 process, from the initial request for direct resettlement to departure for the United States, takes two years on average for those applying out of Iraq. CPJ’s own interviews with eligible Iraqi journalists who have applied for direct resettlement are consistent with their findings.  

Journalists applying out of Baghdad have expressed anxiety and frustration to us with unexplained delays and lack of information available to them on the status of their cases. One translator for a major U.S. newspaper submitted her application materials 10 months ago and still has not received so much as an invitation for an interview.  She did receive a notice last month requesting she resend some of her documents. She complied and received an auto reply that her case would be reviewed within 10 months. This could mean a 20-month wait before even knowing if she has been confirmed as eligible, let alone the time it takes for the multi-agency security clearance process and Department of Homeland security checks which follow. That is a long time for someone in her shoes.

Like many other journalists and Iraqis at risk for their work, she has moved five times now for her safety; she keeps her occupation secret from family and friends and says she fears discovery every day by militias that consider people who work with Americans to be traitors or spies. Then there is the chance that she will find out after the long wait that she has not been approved. A cameraman for a prominent U.S. television news program was interviewed six months after his application was submitted; he waited another four months to learn that his application was rejected and he must now apply for reconsideration.

This is, as Human Rights First puts it, “far too long for programs that were designed to rescue Iraqis facing danger due to their ties to the United States.” Working at its best, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act should be a means to quickly evacuate some 250 individuals and their families eligible for their U.S. media affiliations. It doesn’t touch on the plight of those working with Iraqi-based media outlets around the country like cameraman Jehad Abdulwahid Hannoon, who was ambushed, shot, and left for dead while working in Baghdad in 2005. These journalists are playing a vital role in building civil society in Iraq. 

CPJ appreciates that the steps laid out in the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act represent an enormous undertaking and that there are necessary screening and security protocols in place for all refugees, but the long waits applicants are facing in both the adjudication and security clearance phases are worrisome. Journalists who have risked their own and their families’ lives to bring essential news to the American public are left to languish in the face of continuing threats without knowing when or even if they will be offered a way out.  

We join in Human Rights First in calling for increased staffing, more frequent Department of Homeland Security trips to the region to interview refugee applicants and a more efficient security clearance process. CPJ also hopes the P2 category can be expanded, or another mechanism put in place, to address the dangers journalists working for local Iraqi press face on a daily basis.

If you are interested in supporting a journalist in exile contact CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program.

For more information on the Iraqi refugee crisis and ways you can help visit:

Human Rights First

Refugees International

The List Project

International Rescue Committee