Michael Ware


AC: World Refugee Day -- One Iraqi's story

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Length: 6:21

ANDERSON COOPER: As we touched on briefly at the top of the hour, for the first time in five years, the number of refugees worldwide rose last year, to nearly 10 million, largely because of the crisis in Iraq.

Tonight, nearly two million Iraqis are internally displaced; 1.5 million are refugees. It's the largest exodus of people in the Middle East in half-a-century. And the vast majority have fled to Syria and Jordan.

And America? Well, the State Department says the U.S. has given refuge to just 701 Iraqis over the last four years. And most of them had begun the process before Saddam Hussein's government fell.

You might think that Iraqis who have risked their lives to help the U.S. would be assured of safety here in America. But many of them say that help isn't coming fast enough. And, tonight, we're asking, why not?

Here's CNN's Michael Ware.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite appearances, this man considers himself lucky.

His name is Uday, and he's one of the less than 1,000 Iraqis welcomed into the United States since the beginning of the war. Just after the fall of Baghdad, he was thrilled to help the Americans as an Army translator. But, just 35 days into the job, his car was stopped in the street by three men.

(on camera): They shot you in the face, and they shot you in the arm.

UDAY, IRAQI REFUGEE: Yes. Yes. No, they want to shoot my head, you know? But I put my arm like this.

WARE (voice-over): In Iraq, working for the Americans can mean signing your own death warrant. Retribution from Sunni insurgents and Shia militia is severe. But the State Department's official advice, even for those shot, threatened or with family members kidnapped, is simply to get out of Iraq.

(on camera): The military didn't help you?


WARE: The American government didn't help you?

UDAY: Nobody.

WARE (voice-over): Uday wasn't rescued by the Army, but by a chance encounter with this woman, running a tiny charity to get surgery for wounded Iraqi children.

ELISSA MONTANTI, FOUNDER, GLOBAL MEDICAL RELIEF FUND: There wasn't any support coming from the government, coming from anywhere. Uday was on his own.

WARE: Kirk Johnson is on a one-man crusade to save hundreds of others. Now a civilian, after working for a year in Iraq with the State Department's aid agency, USAID, he's culled a list of more than 400 Iraqi translators, like Uday, now at risk who need rescue.

KIRK JOHNSON, FORMER USAID WORKER: I don't know why it's taking so long, because we're usually the leaders in the world at resettling refugees. Yet, for whatever reason, with these particular refugees, we seem to have forgotten how to do what we do best.

WARE: Since the war began, according to the State Department, only 701 Iraqis have made it to U.S. shores. And, of those, but a few are victims of the war; the rest, refugees from a regime that fell four years ago, Saddam Hussein's.

JOHNSON: These people have been raped. They have been kidnapped. They have had family members killed, all because they were identified as working for the United States government.

WARE: So far, he says, not one of his 400-plus list has made it out.

JOHNSON: I have never been more ashamed of my government now. Those Iraqis that worked for us, when I see them fleeing without even anything other than a sort of "Good luck" from us, it turns my stomach.

WARE: While pumping billions of dollars a week into the fight, the U.S. has offered a comparatively meager $150 million this year to boost ailing support services in the countries like Syria and Jordan awash with these desperate Iraqis.

And, of the four million displaced Iraqis around the world, America has so far only brought in a relative handful into the country, while other Western countries, like Sweden and Australia, have taken in tens of thousands.

Why does the country that started the war lag so far behind? The answers are in Washington. Ellen Sauerbrey is the Assistant Secretary of State responsible for assisting these refugees.

(on camera): Has America met its profound obligation to these Iraqis?

ELLEN SAUERBREY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POPULATION, REFUGEES, AND MIGRATION: Americans do care. And we do feel that moral commitment. Are we moving as quickly as we need to? Are we finding the people that need our assistance as quickly as I wish we were? No. But we are moving forward now.

WARE (voice-over): Sauerbrey says it's a delicate balance. America recognizes the humanitarian need, but, she says, there are added security concerns for bringing in refugees from a country the U.S. is still fighting.

The process just now put in place of granting an Iraqi refugee status in the United States takes four to six months, and those who work directly with the U.S. government in Iraq are fast-tracked. But Sauerbrey says it's difficult to find them, a claim disputed by Kirk Johnson.

And, while the U.S. recently said it expects to take in some 2,500 Iraqis into the country this year, Sauerbrey suggested the government could take even more.

SAUERBREY: There is no cap on the numbers.

WARE (on camera): So you will bring as many as is needed?

SAUERBREY: We will be bringing people in as quickly as we can get them through security clearance.

WARE: No one will be left behind?

SAUERBREY: It may take time.

WARE (voice-over): That, it seems, is a profound understatement. Just last month, only one Iraqi was cleared to arrive in the U.S.

JOHNSON: They still have a chance to save these people's lives. They're still living. They're running for their lives. But the game isn't over yet.

WARE: It's only just begun for Uday.

If you're wondering why we haven't told you his last name, it's because he asked we didn't, out of security concerns for both him and his wife and four children. That's because they're still in Iraq. They have just been granted asylum, but because of the ongoing violence, it's unclear when they will be able to leave.

Michael Ware, CNN, Washington.