Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Obama administration nixes idea for airlift of Iraqi refugees to Guam

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 27, 2010

The State Department’s top refugee official, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration Eric P. Schwartz, has hinted that the administration is not interested in doing a major airlift to Guam of endangered Iraqis who worked for the US military and US contractors. The US government conducted similar airlift for US allies after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and from northern Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s troops moved to reclaim control of that area in 1996. In an article in the Washington Post Mr. Schwartz said that, instead, the Obama administration is focusing on promoting reconciliation and security in Iraq.

With the Iraqis…many more are arriving through the refugee program. But a separate program created by Congress for Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government has been criticized as cumbersome and ineffective.

Only about 2,100 of the 15,000 available visas have been issued under that program.

Recently, 22 House and Senate members wrote to the State and Defense departments asking for a comprehensive plan to protect the thousands of Iraqis who worked with U.S. forces, including a possible airlift.

“Schwartz has a great reputation,” said Kirk W. Johnson, executive director of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. “The main policy tool that I want put back on the table is directly derived from his leadership on Operation Pacific Haven.”

That was the airlift of U.S. allies from northern Iraq to Guam, after Saddam Hussein’s troops moved to reclaim control of that area in 1996.

Schwartz said the Obama administration is focusing on promoting reconciliation and security in Iraq. “We don’t expect the kind of contingency the members described,” he said. here

The article also praises Mr. Schwartz for doubling the per capita (per refugee) grant to refugee resettlement agencies for refugees first 30-90 days in the US.

Perhaps Schwartz’s greatest accomplishment in his current job hasn’t come overseas, but at home.

Early on, he traveled around the United States to see how resettled refugees were faring.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the stories,” he recalled. Refugees were struggling in the depressed economy, forced to decide between buying food or diapers for their children.

Schwartz realized that the State Department grant of $900 given to refugees for housing, food and other expenses for their first several weeks had not kept up with inflation. He decided to double it, to $1,800.

What no one considers here is that Mr. Schwartz doubled the money the State Department gives to refugee resettlement agencies without any corresponding promises by the agencies to abide by their resettlement contracts to give refugees at least the bare minimum required services and material items, which they have long failed to give. Mr. Schwartz has also kept in place the extremely cozy relationship the private resettlement agencies have with the State Department and other government oversight agencies; a type of relationship that always leads to wrongdoing by private businesses.

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