Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2 million Iraqis have been driven out of the country, and observers have criticized the U.S. government’s reluctance to shoulder the responsibility for taking care of these refugees. The State Department has been slow to resettle displaced Iraqis within U.S. borders. By its own admission, the department has accepted only 4,238 Iraqi refugees into the country as of April 2008.
In a feature last week, Detroit’s Metro Times takes a more intimate look at the lives of these refugees, explaining the United States’ obligation to them better than any set of figures can. The piece focuses particularly on people who have been subjected to violence because of their connections to the United States: Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government or businesses in Iraq, and with Chaldeans, a Christian minority group subjected to violence because the religion is associated with American culture.
One young man interviewed for the piece fell into both categories and fled Iraq after some harrowing harassment. Six of his coworkers were murdered, and he grew fearful for his own life after being followed home by cars of armed men and receiving anonymous phone calls demanding the names of his company’s Iraqi employees.
Metro Times also highlights the difficulties faced by Iraqi refugees upon arrival in the United States: struggling to master English, find jobs, and build communities while dealing with the emotional consequences of war. Some Michigan-specific organizations have cropped up to support them, but it’s clear there are no easy solutions.
Last year, Congress passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which forces the State Department to create concrete strategies to resettle more Iraqis in the United States. As more refugees make their homes here, it’s important to keep these stories visible in the continuing discussion about the United States’ responsibility to Iraq.