On day of travel to US Iraqi refugee family told to sign for a $4,500 travel loan
Posted by Christopher Coen on May 10, 2012
An Iraqi refugee family now living in Idaho says that they were told, on the day before travel to the US for resettlement, that they should come in to “sign” for tickets. At the signing they claim they were then told to sign for a $4,500 travel loan. I wrote to the State Department about my concerns about the refugee Travel Loan Program program in 2005, but the agency’s refugee office did not make any major changes until now. In March the State Department announced that it was planning significant changes to the refugee program beginning in October (the beginning of the next fiscal year). A State Department spokeswoman says monthly loan payments will be capped according to income, loan agreements will be translated into nearly a dozen languages, and there will be a new informational website explaining the travel loan program. An article at StateImpact explains:
…[Qusay Alani] says he left Iraq after he was jailed for refusing to join Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. In Jordan, he says, he lived like a fugitive. As more and more Iraqis fled there, they were less and less welcome. Alani began the process of applying for refugee status. He didn’t aim to come to the U.S. He and his family simply needed to go somewhere. “Any country, I go to,” he says. “The only thing is just to protect my family. Because, you know, if I go back to Iraq I might get killed, you know. So – do my family.”
In 2009, after years of waiting, Alani and his family learned they were bound for the United States. This is where the travel loan comes in.
“They gave us like a month prior,” Alani explains. “They told us – in a month ahead, you’re going to travel. Then a day before, they told us to come and sign for your tickets.”
Alani says that’s when he found out he would have to sign a loan for more than $4,500…
…there is an effort underway to make changes, says Deborah Sisbarro, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
“We are, in fact, in the process of making improvements in the way the travel loan program works, yes,” she says.
Sisbarro says there will be a new informational website explaining the travel loan program. She says monthly loan payments will be capped according to income, and loan agreements will be translated into nearly a dozen languages. She says the changes should be in place by next year…
…In reporting this story, StateImpact requested interviews with current and former State Department officials and the official who oversees the travel loan program. None was available for an interview… Read more here
In the article the IRC’s Jim Carey complains about the travel loan program, yet his organization offers no private partner solution to the problem. Couldn’t the nine national resettlement agencies offer to set up a private endowment to help the refugees with part of the cost of travel?