U.S. sets new rules for Iraqi refugees

May 31, 2007 at 11:48 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 31 (UPI) -- Despite criticism that the Bush administration has shirked its duty to Iraqi refugees, a U.S. agency said it will step up security screening for refugees.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Tuesday that the department developed "enhanced security screening procedures" for Iraqis applying for refugee status in the United States.

Under the new rules, which supplement the screening for all refugee applicants, Homeland Security is set to approve applications for 60 Iraqis, a statement from department said.

In its latest assessment early this month, the U.N. refugee agency estimated that 1.9 million Iraqis are internally displaced, emphasizing the extent of security concerns in country.

The Bush administration has been roundly criticized for ignoring the humanitarian problem caused by the more than four years of conflict in Iraq. Therefore, administration officials set the goal of admitting an unprecedented number of Iraqi refugees this year.

The enhanced security procedures announced by Homeland Security, however, seem to contradict this plan.

Since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, the United States admitted only 692 Iraqis, according to Congressional testimony by a State Department official in March.

"Following the 9/11 attacks, for security reasons, the United States instituted an enhanced security review of existing Iraqi resettlement cases that effectively halted their admission until this requirement was lifted in 2005," said Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary for population, refugees, and migration at the State Department.

Homeland Security is now using similar language to describe the procedures described as "a first step in fulfilling the administration's commitment to accept up to 7,000 referrals of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees."

A spokeswoman for the department would not provide details about the new procedures, citing security concerns.

"By making sure we're not letting in terrorists ... we allow the State Department to continue processing these refugees by enhancing the security screening procedures," said Laura Keehner.

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