Cablegate: Iraq in-Country Refugee Program -- Maximizing Efficiency

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1. (SBU) Summary: At the second anniversary of the "Refugee Crisis
in Iraq Act" the in-country refugee program has doubled capacity
since last year and is functioning more efficiently as it focuses on
the most vulnerable in the program. Processing has improved through
a concerted dedication of Department of State, Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) and International Organization of Migration
(IOM) resources. We expect to see over 4,400 Iraqis arrive in the
U.S. from the in-country program this year, compared with 1,466 last
year, and to have a robust pipeline of ready to travel cases moving
into 2011. We are now at capacity. While the number of new
in-country refugee applications has decreased and more cases are
being interviewed, there is still a significant backlog and the USG
continues to hire Iraqis who could potentially qualify for the
program. In the face of anecdotal evidence that some applicants are
not anxious to travel, we have increased our focus on expediting
cases of the most vulnerable and moving those who are eager to
travel. End summary.

Increasing Efficiency and Capacity

2. (SBU) The in-country direct access P2 refugee program created by
the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act is operating with increased
efficiency and capacity. As a result of larger IOM and DHS teams
the program is on pace to double the number of refugees processed in
Baghdad this year. In FY 2009, DHS sent 6 circuit rides of 5
officers each and interviewed 4,662 individuals. In 2010 DHS has
committed to 9 circuit rides of 6 officers who are expected to
interview 9,400 individuals. We expect to see over 4,400 Iraqis
arrive in the U.S. from the in-country program this year, compared
with 1,466 last year, and to have a robust pipeline of ready to
travel cases moving into 2011. While Baghdad has a queue of
approximately 27,000 individuals actively moving through the
process, there are 4,600 individuals that are already approved and
pending outprocessing and we are currently processing cases at
approximately the same rate at which new cases are received. In the
fall of 2008 approximately 215 new case applications were received
per week versus the 92 cases per week received in the same period in

3. (U) The processing increase is possible because of physical
improvements made to the refugee facility in Baghdad, procedural
improvements by IOM and the commitment of additional State
Department and DHS resources. The program moved into its current
home in a Saddam-era building in the area known as Meadowlands on
Forward Operating Base (FOB) Prosperity in the International Zone
(IZ) in May 2009. While a huge improvement over the trailers
previously used in a parking garage, the building had only 14
offices/interviewing rooms and a small crowded waiting room.
Trailers were subsequently installed which allowed the inside
waiting area to be divided into three additional offices. Off-site
secure storage of case files has further freed up an additional
office. These facility changes have resulted in the ability to
screen an additional 150 cases/360 individuals per month. IOM is
utilizing the building to capacity to prescreen enough cases to feed
into the nine FY10 DHS circuit rides.

4. (U) Processing efficiency has been improved by increased staffing
Q4. (U) Processing efficiency has been improved by increased staffing
at IOM's main office in Amman and improved scheduling procedures.
IOM has more than doubled its overseas processing entity (OPE) staff
in Amman committed to the USRAP and specifically Baghdad. The
increase in resources has allowed IOM to improve scheduling
procedures and ensure that the circuit rides are fully scheduled.
One of the most difficult challenges of the Iraq program is
contacting applicants to schedule interviews. IOM reports a 50%
success rate of contacting applicants who list one cell phone
number. That rate jumps to 75% when there are two numbers listed.
The most efficient ways to communicate with Iraqis has been through
email and cell phone texts. Because of the difficulty in contacting
applicants, IOM must have at least 650 prescreened cases to schedule
a circuit ride of 450 cases. This means that Baghdad must maintain
a large pool of prescreened cases and continue to prescreen cases at
a higher rate than DHS can interview. When scheduling a circuit
ride, IOM staff in Amman contact the applicant three to four times
to confirm the interview and over-schedule by several cases to
account for applicants who will not show for their interviews. This
ensures maximum utilization of the interview slots.

5. (SBU) The commitment of additional resources to the multi-agency
security clearance process in Washington has resulted in faster
Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) results. We estimate that the SAO
processing time for Iraqis has been reduced to an average of less
than 2 months compared with 4 months or longer 6 months ago. The

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policy to no longer require re-running a CLASS namecheck after
receiving SAO results for Iraqi refugees has resulted in
significantly fewer repeat SAOs and faster processing time.

Focusing on the Most Vulnerable

6. (SBU) While the above measures to increase processing output and
normalize procedures have resulted in lowered wait times, we project
the wait to be 14 months or longer for an Iraqi who applies to the
program today. IOM caseworkers and DHS refugee officers have
anecdotally reported that refugees' threat statements have become
more generalized over the last year and that fewer report facing
immediate threat. This overall decreased sense of urgency is
corroborated by IOM staff who communicate with USRAP applicants to
arrange appointments. IOM further reports that the appointment
cancellation rate has increased marginally over the last 8 months.
Another possible indicator of decreased urgency is that the percent
of cases that have ceased movement in the pipeline because of
rejection or the applicant choosing to withdraw from the program has
doubled since summer 2009. Between April and July 2009 eight per
cent of cases in the pipeline ceased processing compared with
sixteen per cent over the last four months.

7. (SBU) The wait time combined with the high cancellation rates and
anecdotal evidence that some in-country applicants are not anxious
to travel has permitted us to make a concerted effort to target the
most vulnerable in the program and those who are anxious to flee.
One of the most significant accomplishments of this effort is the
improved response time to applicant emails. Baghdad Info Center is
IOM's office that receives and processes all in-country applications
and inquiries. Due to a heavy backlog, response time was estimated
to be 12 weeks in the summer of 2009. Today BIC emails are read
within 48 hours and answered within 72 hours. This allows IOM to
quickly identify applicants who face immediate threat and expedite
cases when appropriate. In addition to applicants who self-identify
to IOM, PRM or RefCoord as needing quicker processing, cases with
medical conditions are also immediately expedited. As a result of
effective procedures approximately 1 in 5 cases are expedited with
the goal of pushing the more vulnerable cases to the front of the
queue. Expedited cases can generally be processed in 2-4 months.
In November we were able to expedite the case of a vulnerable
pregnant woman in 5 weeks.

8. (U) New procedures have been implemented to move individuals who
demonstrate an urgency to flee while putting Iraqis who consistently
delay the process without compelling reasons at the end of the line.
Baghdad follows the standard "two no-show rule" meaning that if an
individual does not show for two appointments without providing a
compelling reason their case is closed. Closed cases are easily
reopened by the OPE if the applicant expresses an interest to
continue the process. If applicants tell IOM in advance that they
will not attend an interview then they are charged with a
cancellation but not a no-show for statistical and case-closure
purposes. The new policy states that those applicants are not
automatically rescheduled for the next circuit ride but are rather
put at the end of the scheduling queue unless the applicant
Qput at the end of the scheduling queue unless the applicant
expresses an immediate need to process. Post feels this is an
effective means to focus the circuit rides on Iraqis who are willing
to commit to the process and feel an urgency to flee. Another means
of focusing on the most vulnerable was the creation of a policy to
schedule no more than five percent of a DHS circuit ride with cases
of Kurdish applicants who live and work in the Kurdistan region
(KRG). This decision was made after consultation with DHS officers
who expressed concern that many of the Kurdish applicants from the
KRG were unable to prove that they faced a threat and many stated
that the only threat they faced was when they took the journey to
Baghdad for their refugee interview.

9. (SBU) While the Iraq in-country refugee queue remains significant
there is no USRAP back-log in Jordan meaning that an applicant is
scheduled for a first prescreening interview within a week of
submitting a complete application or being referred by UNHCR.
Average USRAP processing time in Jordan is 4 to 6 months. USRAP
applicants may easily transfer cases from Iraq to Jordan where they
may process their cases more quickly while they wait in safety.
Encouraging applicants who face immediate threat in Iraq to flee to
Jordan for processing continues to be an important protection outlet
for vulnerable and urgent cases.

Moving Forward: Limitations and Planning

10. (U) The in-country P2 program is functioning efficiently but at

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capacity. The physical limitations of the facility in Baghdad mean
that we will be unable to increase the number of cases being
interviewed. Currently, post estimates that we will be able to
process on FOB Prosperity through the end of 2012. Beyond 2012 we
are unable to predict when the U.S. will be asked to transfer
possession of the base to the Iraqis.

11. (U) Cultural orientation is still not conducted in Iraq because
of security and facility concerns. Post believes it is still
dangerous for USRAP applicants to travel to the International Zone
and the number of times applicants are required to travel through
checkpoints should be limited. However; Post does recognize the
importance of cultural orientation not only to prepare refugees for
their arrival to the U.S. but also to inform P2 applicants about
life as a refugee in the U.S. so they may make an informed decision
whether to continue processing their USRAP case. In addition to
security concerns there are facility dilemmas. IOM staff fall under
Chief of Mission authority when in Iraq and as such must abide by
Embassy security rules. This means that IOM can only teach CO
classes in a hardened structure in the IZ. Such a building that
could house a CO class and be accessible to Iraqis has yet to be
located. Steps have been taken to fill the CO void including
playing a video of an Amman CO class in the waiting room, handing
out the Amman CO email address for questions and passing out CO
material for applicants to take home. Post will continue to
brainstorm CO alternatives with IOM and explore the possibility of
one day holding CO classes in Baghdad.

12. (SBU) We continue to make contingency plans for security threats
and a possible increase in applications or cases needing expedite.
Despite security improvements in Iraq, the threat of terrorist
attack against the checkpoint into Meadowlands or any of the
facilities used for refugee processing remains. Post has taken
several measures to improve security including adding concrete
T-walls around much of the refugee processing building and
continuing to have security personnel evaluate the checkpoint
security. Post has assisted IOM in locating and contracting with a
second clinic to conduct refugee medical exams so the program is not
dependent on a single clinic. IOM's additional staffing in Jordan
means that personnel can be shifted to the Iraq program if there is
an influx of cases and urgency. However, physical limitations mean
that facility changes will need to be made if Baghdad is called upon
to process more cases. The alternative would be to encourage
threatened Iraqis to flee to Jordan where the program can more
easily accommodate an influx of cases.

13. (SBU) Comment: As a result of efforts to improve processing
efficiency and a concerted dedication of Department and DHS
resources, we are on pace to double the number of USRAP P2 cases
processed in Iraq this year. A substantial backlog in the Baghdad
pipeline remains. It is unclear how many applicants are eager to
travel. There are many factors at play in Iraq that could affect
the sense of urgency amongst applicants. Factors include the level
of violence, whether elections are deemed successful, the economies
both in Iraq and the U.S., and USG employment trends. While the
number of new applications to the program has decreased by 50
percent over the past year there are reports that USF-I contractors
Qpercent over the past year there are reports that USF-I contractors
expect to hire thousands of Iraqi employees to replace third-country
national employees over the next 8 months. This could drastically
affect the number of new applications to the P2 program.
Anecdotally, IOM caseworkers and DHS officers report that
applicants' threat statements have become more generalized over the
last year and that applicants are reporting less urgency for
immediate flight. [Note: This is consistent with the evolution of
threat reports seen in the Special Immigrant Visa caseload.] The
program is operating at capacity and has improved methods to focus
on vulnerability and individuals eager to travel. End comment.


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