US Iraq envoy blasts pace of refugee process-paper

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WASHINGTON, Sep 17 (Reuters) The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warns that nearly 10,000 Iraqi refugees seeking to enter the United States may have to wait as long as two years because of bureaucratic bottlenecks, The Washington Post reported today.

In a bluntly worded State Department cable titled ''Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed It Up?'' Crocker said the US Department of Homeland Security had only a handful of officers in Jordan to vet the refugees, the Post reported.

Crocker wrote the admission of Iraqi refugees to the United States remained bogged down by ''major bottlenecks'' resulting from security reviews conducted by the departments of State and Homeland Security, the newspaper said.

Applicants must wait eight to 10 months from the time they are referred to US authorities by the UN refugee agency before they set foot in the United States, he said.

''Resettlement takes too long,'' Crocker wrote.

The newspaper cited Crocker as saying each DHS case officer in Jordan could interview only four cases a day on average, and just a handful of officers were in the region, partly because Syria refused to issue visas to DHS personnel.

''It would take this team alone almost two years to complete'' interviews on 10,000 UN referrals, he estimated.

The ''sensitive'' but unclassified memo was sent on September 7, according to the Post, which said Crocker had raised the issue in two cables in the past two months.

In a letter to Crocker the following day, Emilio Gonzalez, the director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote the cable ''does not reflect an accurate picture of DHS's commitment or performance to date,'' the Post reported.

The report said Gonzalez disputed many of Crocker's points and blamed the State Department, which has overall responsibility for the US refugee program.

The United Nations estimates about 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, and an estimated 2.2 million more have fled to Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries, the newspaper said.

The Post said Crocker suggested fast-tracking security checks for Iraqis, doubling the number of interviewing officers in Jordan and continuing to push Syria to issue visas. He also suggested what he called ''real alternatives,'' including allowing State Department officers to interview refugees.

REUTERS SYU RN1152

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