Will the State Department increase the number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States each year?
The State Department said yesterday it will re-examine U.S. policy on the admission of Iraqi refugees, likely leading to a sharp increase in the number it admits each year.
A task force set up by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week also will try to resettle in the United States some Iraqi employees of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, whose lives are in danger because of their work for Americans.
The steps follow sharp criticism from humanitarian organizations and members of Congress, who note that Middle Eastern countries are struggling with a flood of Iraqi refugees while the United States has admitted only 466 since the war began in 2003.
"Clearly, there is a need that exists, and there are problems that need to be addressed," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, saying it was too early to discuss how many Iraqis the United States can absorb.
"We want to do what is appropriate, what is right under our obligations under the U.N. Charter in providing our fair share of relief for those individuals who have been classified as refugees," he said.
Supporters of the existing policy have warned that hostile elements such as al Qaeda terrorists might try to enter the United States posing as refugees. Mr. McCormack did not say what steps might be taken to screen the applicants.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Geneva-based agency that determines who qualifies as a refugee, estimates that at least 1.6 million Iraqis are internally displaced and up to 1.8 million have fled to neighboring countries. Those figures include people displaced before 2003.
"Between January and mid-November 2006, an estimated 425,000 Iraqis fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq, most of them following sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of an important Shia mosque in February 2006," the UNHCR said last month.
"At midyear, internal displacement was estimated to be continuing at a rate of some 50,000 a month," it said.
U.S. will permit more Iraqi refugees
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