TUESDAY, 13 JANUARY 2009 22:31
BY GERARDO R. PARTIDO | VARIETY NEWS STAFF
An American think tank specializing in national security has released a study naming Guam as a possible relocation site for tens of thousands of Iraqis serving with the U.S. military and other U.S.-affiliated organizations.
The Center for American Progress or CAP, is a think tank headed by John D. Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and professor at the Georgetown University Center of Law.
Its study, entitled "Operation Safe Haven Iraq 2009: An Action Plan for Airlifting Endangered Iraqis Linked to the United States," warned that extremists and militia groups are now targeting the estimated 30,000 to 100,000 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, describing them as traitors for working with Americans.
"In many cases, the lives of these Iraqis and their families are in imminent danger and many have become refugees or internally displaced persons within Iraq," CAP said.
The study concluded that these Iraqis urgently need and deserve America's help, and the Obama administration should act quickly to remove them from harm's way.
CAP said one possible location for processing these Iraqis is Guam, which already possesses pre-existing infrastructure and has status as a U.S. territory.
The study also pointed out that Guam already has experience in housing refugees during the aftermath of the Vietnam war as well as Operation Pacific Haven.
In 1996, the U.S. military set up a safe haven area in the Kurdish area of Iraq to protect civilians during the First Gulf War in 1991. The United States worked quickly to repatriate 6,600 Iraqi Kurds who first crossed the border into Turkey and were held briefly before being transported to Guam, with security screenings taking place prior to the airlift.
The Turkish government did not want this large number of Kurds in their territory, prompting the rapid U.S. airlift response. Operation Pacific Haven ran from September 16, 1996 to April 16, 1997.
The study recalled that the military flew three groups of refugees to Guam in successive waves. Once in Guam, Iraqis lived on an annex of Andersen Air Force Base.
The United States provided food, housing, clothing, medical care, and assimilation classes. The asylum processing took place in Guam in an expedited fashion and involved lawyers, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Screening consisted of background checks, medical examinations, and the designation of sponsors.
According to the study, the whole process took an average of 90 to 120 days and the cost of the Guam portion of the operation was approximately $10 million.
"A small caseload of approximately 80-90 Iraqis were problematic and thought to be double-agents. They were the last to be airlifted from Turkey and were stuck in Guam and/or kept in detention for a lengthy period of time before their cases were resolved," CAP said.
For the current proposed refugee operation, CAP proposes the following six-step course of action for 2009 as modeled after current airlifts by coalition partners and best practices from past airlifts:
Step 1: Appoint a White House coordinator for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. President-elect Obama should appoint a White House coordinator for Iraqi refugees and IDPs as outlined in the Kennedy-Biden-Durbin-Hagel-Smith legislation—a bill to develop a policy to address the critical needs of Iraqi refugees. The coordinator's responsibilities would include overseeing the airlift;
Step 2: Conduct an audit and review of current efforts. Full-time, dedicated embassy staff throughout the region from various U.S. government agencies must conduct a thorough audit and create a comprehensive list of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis through the SIV and traditional refugee assistance programs;
Step 3: Finalize security background checks. U.S. agencies should increase resources and personnel to conduct in-country security background checks of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis in Iraq and throughout the region;
Step 4: Order the commencement of the airlift. Once Iraqis are identified, the military should fly Iraqis in small, staggered groups to a third location;
Step 5: Implement and follow up on third-country expedited processing for Iraqi refugees. The White House coordinator should convene agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which would be engaged in the expedited processing of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and oversee smooth coordination between U.S. government agencies and the military; and
Step 6: Facilitate relocation and placement in the United States. U.S.-affiliated Iraqis should be flown to the United States, where some can be funneled into Arabic language-critical jobs. Once the situation in Iraq has improved and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis feel confident about their safety, the expectation is that some of them will return to Iraq.