UNDER PRESSURE FROM UNITED NATIONS, U.S. AGREES TO IRAQI REFUGEE PROGRAM
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to allow about 7,000 Iraqi refugees to settle in the United States over the next year, a huge expansion at a time of mounting international pressure to help those who have fled in the nearly four-year-old war.
The United States has allowed only 463 Iraq refugees into the country since the war began, even though some 3.8 million have left. A senior State Department official described the expanded program on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement later Wednesday.
The administration also plans to pledge $18 million (euro13.82 million) for a worldwide resettlement and relief program. The United Nations has asked for $60 million (euro46.08 million) from nations around the world.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Wednesday with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to outline the expanded U.S. program. The 7,000 would be resettled from nations outside Iraq where they have fled. The U.S. proposal also includes plans to offer special treatment for Iraqis still in the country whose cooperation with the U.S. government puts them at risk from sectarian reprisal.
Most refugees have fled to Syria and Jordan, both of which have recently tried to restrict the influx. The U.N. estimates that 40,000 to 50,000 people flee Iraq each month and have dwindling options of where to go. Other Iraqis relocate inside the country, with some leaving neighborhoods that were once mixed among Sunnis and Shiites and resettling where their sect is more concentrated.