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Cablegate: Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed It Up?

VZCZCXRO0492
OO RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2996/01 2500204
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 070204Z SEP 07 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3229
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002996

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA/I
STATE PASS TO DHS

E.O. 12958: DECL: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PREL SY JO IZ
SUBJECT: IRAQI REFUGEE PROCESSING: CAN WE SPEED IT UP?

Ref: SECSTATE 123392

BAGHDAD 00002996 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) Summary: The U.S. has provided substantial assistance to
Iraq's two million refugees, over USD 120 million in FY-07, which is
considerably more than all other donors combined. Assistance also
involves resettling some refugees; over 10,000 UNHCR referrals are
pending. The process typically takes eight to ten months from the
time a case is referred to the U.S. by the UN High Commission for
Refugees (UNHCR) to the time the refugee sets foot in the U.S. That
delay is likely to grow considerably. The major bottlenecks are the
time it takes for Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) processing, and
the long wait for an interview by a DHS officer in Jordan or Syria,
where the majority of the refugees are located. To address these
choke points, post suggests considering creating a priority track
for Iraqi refugee clearance checks, and looking at other ways to
conduct the DHS interview, including DHS interviewing by DVC from
Washington or allowing State Dept. officers to conduct the
interviews in-country. End Summary.

TWO MILLION REFUGEES
--------------------

2. (U) There are currently more than two million Iraqi refugees: at
least 1.2 million in Syria, an estimated (in the absence of hard
data) 500,000-750,000 in Jordan, and smaller populations in Lebanon,
Egypt and Yemen. Jordan has dramatically restricted entry of new
Iraqi arrivals, but as many as 60,000 Iraqi refugees per month have
been pouring into Syria. However, Syria recently announced that it
will impose visa requirements on some Iraqis; the effect of that is
yet to be seen.

3. (U) Most refugees will eventually return home to Iraq. In the
meantime, they and the host countries need assistance, as the
refugees are putting a huge strain on state-provided services such
as health care, education, and water in both countries. The U.S. is
providing significant aid (over USD 122 million in FY07); the EU
announced 6.2 million euros for Iraqi refugee assistance earlier
this year, and the GOI promised USD 25 million in aid to Iraqi
refugees in Syria and Jordan at a conference hosted by UNHCR in
Geneva in April, although it has still not made good on its pledge
(reftel). More money will be needed, and there are likely to be
major new health, food and emergency assistance appeals by UNHCR and
other UN agencies, and the International Committee for the Red Cross
(ICRC), over the next year.

WHERE ARE THE REFUGEES GOING?
-----------------------------

4. (U) Assistance also consists of admitting some Iraqis to third
countries as refugees through the UN High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) process. From January 1 through August 17, 2007, UNHCR
submitted a total of 12,706 individual Iraqi refugees (4,180 cases)
to resettlement countries, of which 75 percent have been referred to
the U.S. Of the 3,204 individual Iraqis submitted to countries
other than the U.S., the largest number have been referred to
Australia and Canada. Only seven of the 27 EU countries have
established resettlement programs (Denmark, Finland, Ireland,
Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK), which altogether offer
5,500 places per year for resettlement of all refugees, not just
Iraqis. No EU country has offered additional places for
resettlement of Iraqis. From January 1 through August 17, 2007,
1,251 Iraqi refugees have been referred to the seven EU countries.


5. (U) Since 2003 the U.S. has admitted 1,232 Iraqi refugees, and
has now received over 10,000 Iraqi refugee referrals for
consideration for resettlement from UNHCR, U.S. embassies, and
through our direct access program for Locally Employed Staff (LES)
and interpreters. The U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP) is in
the process of being significantly expanded, and in this stepped up
mode, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had interviewed
3,651 refugees as of late August, of whom 2,510 have been
conditionally or fully approved for resettlement. Many of the Iraqi
refugees are located in countries where refugee processing
infrastructure did not exist until last spring. Now that the
necessary facilities and personnel are in place, we expect the
number of Iraqis being referred, processed and admitted to the
United States as refugees will only continue to increase.

RESETTLEMENT TAKES TOO LONG
---------------------------

6. (SBU) It currently takes at least eight months from the time a
case is referred to the USG by UNHCR to when a refugee actually sets
foot in the U.S. In broad terms, this can be broken up into eight
to ten weeks from UNHCR referral to DHS interview (steps one through
four below), and another four to six months from DHS interview to
arrival (steps five through nine). There is currently one DHS team

BAGHDAD 00002996 002.2 OF 002


in Jordan and none in Syria, since the Syrian government has refused
to issue visas to the DHS officers. On average, each DHS officer
interviews 4 Iraqi cases per day, which is fewer than for other
caseloads because of the more in-depth questioning required. If we
assume that there are some 6,300 of the 10,000 cases that still need
interviews, it would take this team alone almost two years to
complete the interviews.

7. (SBU) Clearly this is too long. Refugees who have fled Iraq
continue to be a vulnerable population while living in Jordan and
Syria. The basis for UNHCR's referral for resettlement is the
deteriorating protection environment in these countries of first
asylum, in addition to the risk that would be posed to the
individuals were they to return to Iraq.

HOW CAN WE SPEED UP THE PROCESS?
--------------------------------

8. (SBU) There appear be a number of bottlenecks in the processing
of Iraqi refugees for admission to the U.S. We would like to offer
some observations and suggestions as to how this might be speeded
up.

-- Namechecks/Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs): These take 30-45
days and must be completed before the DHS interview can be
scheduled. We would suggest creating a priority track for all
required clearance checks for Iraqi refugees, with the goal of
lowering the waiting time to 15 days. We also understand that DHS
is considering taking fingerprints before the DHS interview instead
of at the time of the interview, which would allow some checks to
begin earlier and which we would support.

-- DHS interviews: There are not enough DHS interviewing officers
in the region -- one team in Jordan and none in Syria. We should at
least double the number of interviewing officers in Jordan, and
continue pushing the Syrian government to issue visas so that DHS
officers can start doing interviews in Syria. However, we should
also look at real alternatives. We would suggest seriously
exploring the legal and other aspects of allowing a State Dept.
officer to do the interviews, or having DHS do the interviews by DVC
from Washington.

-- In-country processing: We have already asked the Department for
the authority to do in-country processing for Iraqis who work for
the Embassy and are requesting refugee status. This would at least
speed up the process for those Iraqis who have put themselves and
their families at risk by working with us.

9. (U) Post strongly urges the Department to consider these
suggestions, or to propose other ways we can reduce the eight to ten
months it takes for an Iraqi refugee to go through the steps needed
to enter the United States.

CROCKER

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