According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch recently condemned the nation of Egypt for shooting refugees crossing the Sinai desert region on their flight for asylum in Israel. In July of 2007, news about a seven-month pregnant woman being shot by Egyptian border guards only highlighted the 33 other refugees who have been killed by Egypt’s “Shot-to-Stop” policy towards those fleeing from their home. 32 of those killed have been black Africans. According to the article:

Since 2006, more than 130,000 refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants have passed though Egypt and crossed the Sinai border into Israel, according to the report. African migrants have complained about the difficulty of social and economic integration in Egypt.

The report emphasized that Egypt began a shoot-to-stop policy following a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in late June 2007. In the meeting, the two leaders discussed the flow of refugees into Israel by way of Egypt.

“We are not saying that Israel ordered Egypt to kill people; there is no evidence of that,” explained Van Esveld, “but what we are saying is that it seems that Egypt has responded to Israeli pressures with this policy of lethal force.”

A report entitled, Sinai Perils: Risks to Migrants, Refugees and Asylum seekers in Egypt and Israel, points to the fact that the Egyptian government has not allowed African refugees to make asylum cases and have tried them in military courts before deporting them (hundreds in numbers) to conflict zones where the refugee’s well-being is jeopardized. It is important to note the experiences of black African refugees is drastically different than refugees from Palestine and Iraq.


A recent article from The Daily Iowan covered the work of Noah Merrill, a native of Vermont who has done humanitarian work with Direct Aid Iraq. Since his involvement with the organization in 2007, Merrill has been traveling around the country to defend the human rights of those who have been displaced.

While the article is focused on the work of an American in Iraq rather than the plethora of issues facing refugees, the opening paragraph captured my attention in highlighting the reality of trauma and the need for healing:

Noah Merrill expected to interview two, maybe three, Iraqi refugees inside of a small home in Jordan. But when word spread that an American wanted to hear their stories, more than a dozen families showed up, desperate to be heard. The refugees filled the cramped room for hours, one at a time telling tales of sad goodbyes to their country, to their homes.

The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, under the leadership of Dr. Richard Mollica, has done extensive research and documentation on the role of the refugee story in the healing and recovery process. While Merrill was surprised so many were willing to share their painful stories, for refugees, telling and retelling their stories not only affirmed that violence and pain was inflicted on them, but it is a psychological coping mechanism for trauma.

Ali Rawaf, a high school senior in Tuscan, Arizona, wrote in the Tuscan Citizen how Iraqi refugees arrive to the United States with myths of what to expect:

After having lost many loved ones and gone through many crises, Iraqi refugees come prepared to have an easy life here.

Like other refugees before them, Iraqi refugees, regardless of the socio-economic class they left behind, have to sign up to qualify for food stamps, health insurance and other basic social services. As Rawaf states, “With limited educational programs and orientations, the refugees end up spending their money not carelessly, but rather extravagantly.”

The number of refugees admitted is actually more than refugee resettlement agencies can handle. If the number of refugees admitted surpasses the capacities of agencies to provide support, should the Bush administration continue to meet its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees by September? This is a question that I have continually thought about.

Since the U.S. led invasion of Iraqi, the Bush administration came under criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers for its under performance on admitting refugees from Iraq who had fled violence. Critics and officials have acknowledged, that the administration has a moral obligation to Iraqi refugees and therefore, the government has been steadfast in meeting its goals. While I support the government doing its share in admitting refugees into this country and assisting the 2 million who have been displaced since 2003, I urge the government to provide more support for social services for refugees instead of decreasing the number admitted.

Some may argue that America is already admitting too many refugees and while I understand this view, I point to the fact that the U.S. government’s target number of admissions of Iraqi refugees is far lower than other countries; notably Sweden who has admitted roughly 40,000 refugees since 2003.

While I agree with Rawaf’s statement, “It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all,” I urge state and federal agencies to evaluate their approaches to resettlement and perhaps achieve an ideal where all 100 refugees are safe, happy, and prosperous, rather than have them be angry and become burdens on the communities they reside.