Nearly 530 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States last month, a huge bump from July but still far short of the number needed to fulfill the Bush administration’s pledge to accept 2,000 by the end of September.
The 529 Iraqis allowed onto U.S. soil in August — more than in all of the previous 11 months combined — bring to 719 the number to have been admitted in the current budget year, which runs from last October to Sept. 30, according to an internal State Department document obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Officials said the sharp rise — only 57 Iraqis were admitted in July — is a sign that efforts to speed up the processing of refugees from Iraq identified for resettlement in the United States are working.
Among those are an increase in the number of people conducting security screenings and an easing by authorities in some countries of exit requirements for refugees, they said.
More than 2 million refugees
An estimated 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their war-ravaged country per month, contributing to the fastest growing refugee population in the world, now put at between 2 million and 2.5 million, according to refugee advocacy groups.
These organizations are infuriated at what they contend is the administration’s slow pace in processing the refugees.
Kristele Younes of Refugees International said the August figures were encouraging, but noted they were well below the numbers needed to reach the 2,000 goal by the end of this month, a target that was reduced from 7,000 earlier this year.
“We’re happy to see the increase,” she said. “But it’s still very low. It’s better than nothing, but not even close to the original commitment.”
Iraqi refugees are now mainly in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Those seeking to come to the United States must have special security checks by the Homeland Security Department before they are cleared to enter the U.S.
Unexpected July dip
Officials at both departments say they are working to overcome delays in the system. In early July, they noted the admission of 63 Iraqis in June, compared with one refugee each in April and May, and said that increase was proof the delays had been overcome.
But then the number unexpectedly dipped in July, raising questions about the process.
About 1.5 million Iraqi refugees are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 150,000 in Egypt, 50,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Turkey, according to U.N. statistics.
The administration first promised to accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees referred by the U.N. for resettlement during the current budget year.