New York, NY, June 19, 2007—PEN American Center today applauded the introduction of legislation to accelerate and expand programs to resettle threatened Iraqi translators, journalists, and other vulnerable refugees in the United States, calling the Senate’s Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act “an important affirmation of our most basic values and the kind of approach the United States needs to take to this urgent and growing crisis.”

The bill, introduced by Senators Kennedy, Smith, Biden, Hegel, Leahy, Levin, and Lieberman this week, significantly increases the number of Special Immigrant visas for Iraqis and Afghan translators and interpreters and creates a new visa category for Iraqi refugees of special humanitarian concern, a category that includes writers, journalists, and media workers who worked with U.S.-based media organizations in Iraq. It also requires the United States to develop direct, effective systems for processing refugees both inside Iraq and in neighboring countries.

In a speech introducing the bill today in Washington, Senator Kennedy insisted that it is “essential for the United States to develop a comprehensive and effective approach to meet the rapidly growing needs” of more than two million internally displaced Iraqis and an estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled to neighboring countries, and especially of those targeted for associations with the United States. “Many Iraqis who have worked in critical positions in direct support of the United States Government in Iraq have been killed or injured in reprisals for their support of our effort,” Senator Kennedy noted. “Many more Iraqis associated with the United States have fled their country in fear of being killed or injured. Clearly, we cannot resettle all of Iraq’s refugees in the United States, but we have a fundamental obligation to help the vast number of Iraqis displaced in Iraq and throughout the region by the war and the associated chaos, especially those who have supported America’s efforts in Iraq.”

PEN has joined leading international human rights and refugee organizations in endorsing the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act. In a letter to Senator Kennedy, PEN praised the bill for addressing many of the “glaring inadequacies” of the United States’ current approach to the Iraqi refugee crisis, and noted that history would judge the United States’ intervention in Iraq in part “by how we respond to the needs of those who took great risks to build a new Iraq and who fear for their lives as a result.”

“The Refuge Crisis in Iraq Act commits the United States to actions that are long overdue,” PEN American Center Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems said today in New York. “PEN has been working to find safe havens for Iraqi writers, journalists, and translators who were targeted for death for their efforts to build a safe, free, and open society in Iraq. Incredibly, despite continuing attacks, there is no still no avenue for those who are living in hiding inside Iraq to seek asylum in the United States – even for those who are directly threatened for their service to U.S. forces and to international contractors and media outlets. Other countries have been doing their part; it is time for the United States to launch a major effort to resettle Iraqis who have no hope of resuming their professions and their lives in Iraq.”

>> Click here to read PEN’s letter to Senator Edward Kennedy

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Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105