I’m not sure that I’ve ever run across anything more surreal, more deserving of the ubiquitous moniker – ‘Kafkaesque’ than this provision I found in the August 2010 Congressional Research Service report on U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians:
Palestinian refugees from Iraq, who have been in the process of being resettled in the United States for the past year – many who are now refugees twice, or even three times over, – HAVE TO REPAY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FOR THEIR TRANSPORTATION COSTS FROM THE REFUGEE CAMPS TO THE UNITED STATES.
The State Department says that it has not contributed to the resettlement costs of Palestinian refugees from Iraq. According to the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau of the Department of Homeland Security, refugees relocating to the United States generally receive loans from the International Organization for Migration for their transportation expenses. They are ‘expected to repay the cost of their transportation once they are established in the United States.’
Of course, the loans won’t come due until these families get settled. How generous.
So let’s lay this out. These families were already refugees once. The senior generation was displaced from Palestine during the Nakba, the catastrophe caused by the Zionist ethnic cleansing from 1947-1949 during events surrounding the creation of the state of Israel when 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and more than 500 villages were depopulated and/or destroyed. Iraq would not grant citizenship to the first generation of refugees or their descendants. Like so many thousands of Palestinians, they were stateless. But they lived productive lives in Iraq – until the 2003 U.S. invasion, that is.
After the war broke out, violence and harassment against the Palestinians increased. They eventually were placed refugee camps. They stayed there until last year when the violence started to creep into the camps. They were no longer safe, so the camps were closed and the thousands of stateless Palestinian refugees were uprooted once again. Some were relocated to camps in Syria or flown to other countries. But the bulk were resettled in the United States.
Twenty-six families totaling at least 120 people have come to the Chicago area, where the Chicago Coalition for Palestinian Refugees Arriving from Iraq – a group to which my organization, American Muslims for Palestine belongs – have been working to help resettle the refugees. I can attest that these families are working so hard to get on their feet, to piece their lives back together. They’re taking English classes, lookinh desperately for work, and helping their children assimilate into the local school systems.
But it is not easy. Work is nearly to find. Prices are high and the aid they’re receiving from the government, though appreciated, is not close to being enough to sustain them. And to make matters worse, the aid gets cut off once they’ve been here for eight months.
These families did not ask to be put into refugee camps. They certainly didn’t ask to be ripped from a land with language and culture similar to their own and plunked down half a world away where everything is different. Everything.
They are facing a certain crisis soon if they can’t find livable-wage jobs before their federal support is cut off. But once they find work, when they finally have a chance to take a breather and start to hope that things will get easier, they are going to be asked to repay their transportation costs from Iraq.
Indeed, some already have received invoices.
Keep this in mind:
They didn’t ask for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They didn’t ask to be put into refugee camps.
Had their lives not been so disrupted because of the war, they would not have agreed to be uprooted and sent to foreign lands.
Why, then, should they have to pay for it?
Kind of gives a new meaning to the words on the Statue of Liberty after her famous words: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!