Posts Tagged ‘Refugees’

The US is not pulling its weight with the Iraqi refugee crisis

April 4th, 2010 No comments

Iraqis celebrate their homeland's soccer Asian Cup victory in downtown Stockholm. (Photo:

We could argue endlessly about how much the situation in Iraq has improved or worsened since the 2003 invasion. One thing should be made clear however: the Iraqi people are the best judges of the situation and the standard of living in Iraq. And we can easily measure their opinion through how they vote with their feet. Over 2 million Iraqis have been forced to internally migrate to safer areas, while another 2 million plus have left the country. The scale of this movement becomes apparent when one takes into account that Iraq has about 30 million people.

Unfortunately, most of the refugees have fled to neighboring countries in the Middle East that are poorly equipped to handle them. They are in desperate need of faltering aid as they are without adequate food, shelter, education, or a permanent place to call home. And few have returned to Iraq as very few can.

What about the United States? With millions of Iraqis having left the country, surely the leading juggernaut of the Coalition of the Willing must have been more than willing to accept many of these immigrants with open arms.

No. As of the summer of 2009, the United States has accepted about 30,000 immigrants since the invasion. That is equal to 0.01% of the total US population. Probably the most gracious western country to accept Iraqis so far has been Sweden, which currently has 49,000 recent Iraqi arrivals. Not only is this figure over 50% higher than for the US, but when you realize that Sweden’s population is a paltry 9,300,000—the sheer scale of Sweden’s help becomes apparent. That means that 0.5 percent of all people living in Sweden are recent Iraqi immigrants today. This would be the equivalent of the US having nearly 1,580,000 Iraqi immigrants—more people than who live in metropolitan New Orleans. Compare to the actual 30,000 figure, which is about the same number as the inhabitants of Kearney, Nebraska.

Funny, as Sweden was never in the Coalition of the Willing. In fact, it was deeply opposed to the invasion. But it’s liberal asylum laws and generous social welfare programs have made it attractive to Iraqis looking for a new home, while other European countries and the US maintain stricter controls on immigration.

The Swedish government is not amused at carrying much of a burden that they see others are not as willing to take on. The strain on social services is being felt, and apartments overloaded with over a dozen residents is not an uncommon sight. The small Swedish city of Sodertalje alone took in more Iraqi asylum seekers in 2007 than the US as a whole that year. Has the US made any efforts to increase the number of Iraqi immigrants into the country?

Sort of. For example in 2007 the US announced an increased target of 7000 Iraqi immigrants, but due to red tape only 1600 were admitted.

Iraqi refugees in Syria live in poor conditions awaiting to move on to a new life. (Photo:

Despite some improvements in the situation in Iraq, the millions in the refugee camps throughout the Middle East will not likely have a chance to return home. Many of them belong to religious minorities, such as the Christians, and would face discrimination, violence, or worse upon return. Thus many expect the number of asylum-applicants to continue to grow in 2010. The United States has a responsibility to further open its arms to these refugees. Not only because this refugee crisis would not exist if the US had not gone into Iraq, but because we went in with the pretense of liberating the country and giving Iraqis better lives, and we should take more concrete action for these people stuck in limbo to put our money where our mouth is. No one is advocating that we take in proportionally as many Iraqis as the Swedes, as there are limits to our resources, but would it be too much to ask to double, triple, or quadruple the current numbers we’ve let in?