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500,000 Iraqi Refugees In 2007: Report

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WASHINGTON — A half-million Iraqis fled their embattled country in 2007, the third consecutive year more Iraqis were displaced than any other nationality, a survey of the world's refugees reported Thursday.

As before, most went to neighboring Syria, and some fanned out into other neighboring countries, the survey by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said. It said the United States accepted few, just over half the 3,000 it had promised to resettle by the end of September.

The report said the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 10,000 Iraqis for U.S. resettlement.

It said the Iraqi exodus "from the violence and instability of their homeland" constituted "the largest refugee crisis of 2007."

"While the Bush administration and the United Kingdom are busy trying to win the war, they have provided no leadership toward ensuring the rights and well-being of the victims of this war," the report said. "Europe, which for the most part warned of the dire humanitarian consequences of the war, has also done nothing to help the people they were so concerned about."

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the survey "shows the United States still has far to go to support the rights of refugees worldwide."

"The United States has a moral obligation and a security interest in trying to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly those who risked so much over the past few years to help our military and diplomatic efforts in their country," Cardin said Wednesday.

Iraqis were not the only group for which the survey faulted U.S. policies.

In its "Report Card" section, it gave the United States an "F," the lowest grade, for returning refugees to their home countries without hearing them out, a practice called "refoulement." China, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Libya and others failed the same category.

"We gave the United States an F in refoulement entirely for its treatment of Haitians," Merrill Smith, editor of the report, said Wednesday.

The survey said the United States interdicted 6,400 foreign nationals at sea in 2007, almost all Cubans or Haitians.

Cubans but not Haitians were told they had the right to seek asylum. Haitians who did not shout out their fear of reprisals at home were sent back, almost 1,600 in all. Cubans who did not accept the American offer of requesting asylum, 3,200 of them, were returned as well.

For Cubans, the practice implements the "dry foot" policy that allows Cubans who cross the 90 miles of water between Cuba and south Florida to remain, but those caught at sea are returned unless they can claim valid refugee status. The policy does not include people fleeing Haiti.

"We use the 'shout test' for Haitians," Smith said. "If somebody hears a Haitian shout out a claim to asylum, he will not be sent back" until the claim is investigated.

Many countries treat refugees from different countries or areas differently. The survey rates a country's efforts for each ethnic or racial group and makes the country's overall score that of the lowest ethnic group.

"The mistreatment of refugees is not limited to poor countries or undemocratic regimes," the survey compilers wrote. "Wealthy industrial nations utilize policies designed to limit the number of refugees that enter their territory, explaining that they have limited resources, that refugees are unable to integrate or that some other country had primary responsibility."

Europe appears in a section titled "Worst Places for Refugees." Smith said it did not use the word "The" because there are too many violators to make that distinction.

"European countries have crafted policies that essentially deny access by making it as difficult as possible to enter their territory," the survey says. "Countries on the periphery of Europe had the harshest policies, protecting their wealthy neighbors to the north and west, often for money."

It faults European countries for forcibly returning failed asylum seekers "to manifestly dangerous situations." It cited:

_France's dispatch of a Chadian asylum seeker to Chad, where he was detained and forcibly interrogated.

_Sweden's deportation of an Iraqi directly to Baghdad.

_Greece's assault on potential asylum seekers to force them back into Turkish waters, including an attempt to swamp them with waves; a Greek fisherman was shot and killed after he was mistaken for an asylum seeker.

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