More than 30K Iraqi refugees relocated to US

GENEVA, Switzerland The big United States intake, which began with the program in 2007, came after Washington had been heavily criticized for taking in too few Iraqi refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended to the participating countries the names of 82,500 Iraqis who should be moved, but so far only 33,117 have been able go to their new homelands, said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

"Everyone is urgent," said Mahecic, but he stressed that priority should be given to medical emergencies and to women and children at particular risk. He said the refugees have been determined to be in need of international protection and that no other solution is possible.

The program started slowly in 2007, but "things are picking up," said Mahecic.

One Shiite lawmaker in Baghdad questioned the U.N. figures, implying they had been inflated in order to make Iraq appear less stable than it really is.

"I believe there is an overstatement and a kind of exaggeration, and the number might include those who are originally in the States before 2003," said Abbas al-Bayati, member of the security and defense committee in the Iraqi parliament.

He acknowledged that the people being resettled in the U.S. "believe as individuals that because they worked with the Americans they will be targeted."

Violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically since the height of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007, although deadly attacks still occur. In one such attack Friday, a suicide bomber with an AK-47 opened fire on worshippers at a Sunni mosque in the northern city of Tal Afar, before detonating an explosives belt, killing 15 people.

Before the resettlement program started, the U.S. government came under heavy criticism from advocacy groups and some lawmakers -- including the late Sen. Ted Kennedy -- who accused it of failing to respond quickly enough to the Iraqi refugee crisis. Critics said the delay imperiled Iraqis who were targeted because they worked with American troops or diplomats.

American resettlement of Iraqis fell short of initial goals because of bureaucratic hurdles and -- critics said -- a lack of commitment. In the fiscal year that began in late 2006, Washington planned to bring in 7,000 Iraqis, then lowered its goal to 2,000 -- then fell 400 short of that.

The administration of former President George W. Bush blamed the slow pace on enhanced security checks. But since then, the U.S. program, working through the U.N. refugee agency, has revved up as it streamlined its methods. Because the U.S. government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30 instead of Dec. 31 as the U.N.'s does, the figures are counted over a different period and so are hard to match up.

For the fiscal year 2007-2008, by U.S. calculations, it surpassed its target of 12,000 refugees, resettling 13,800. For the fiscal year just ended, it beat its target of 17,000 refugees by nearly 2,000. Some activists, however, contend the U.S. targets remain too low, given the size of the refugee problem.

Separately from the UNHCR, the U.S. has been taking in Iraqis who had direct connections to the American military or government in Iraq -- including translators and others. So far, about 4,000 have been resettled, though New York-based Human Rights Watch said that is only a fraction of 20,000 who have sought resettlement under the program.

UNHCR said more than a half million Iraqi refugees are in need of resettlement, but that the agency hasn't been able to examine each case yet. Most of the 2 million Iraqi refugees overall are living without permanent homes in neighboring Syria and Jordan. The agency said a total of 33,117 Iraqi refugees have been resettled since the program began in 2007, with 3,752 the first year, 17,770 last year and 11,595 in the first six months of this year.

Canada was in second place with 1,890 total Iraqi refugees received, followed by Australia with 1,757 and Sweden with 1,180. Other countries that have received Iraqi refugees under the program included Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Britain and Brazil.

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