Rita Shaba lost her entire family and her best friend to sectarian violence in Baghdad in 2006. A Christian, she had herself already narrowly escaped kidnapping, when she boarded a bus out of Iraq with 6 dollars in her pocket. It took her two-and-a-half years before she qualified for resettlement and finally found a home in California, in the United States.
"I'm strong," she told a newspaper in Modesto, California. "I speak. I cry. I want what I want. ... Now, thanks to God, I can make anything. I'm happy here."
Refugee resettlement is often called "the option of last resort." Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in a third country. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, requests countries around the world to accept the most vulnerable cases.
Andrew Harper is Head of the Iraq Unit for UNHCR. He says the United States resettles the largest number of Iraqis:
"They’ve been taking numbers and they’ve been taking the most vulnerable, so after a relatively sort of hesitant start, they've really come to the fore, and so the number of Iraqis they've been moving out has been quite significant."
Mr. Harper noted that not only the government, but the citizens of the U.S. have been helpful in the effort:
"The U.S. NGOs have been outstanding in advocating for the protection and assistance of not only Iraqi refugees, but those organizations supporting them. Also for those host communities who are absorbing Iraqi refugees when they're arriving. I know it's not an easy time for anyone in this current economic situation, but I think the response has been quite good given the constraints."
The United States plans to accept 80,000 refugees for resettlement this year from war zones around the world. Seventeen thousand of those will be from Iraq.
In addition to that 17,000, the U.S. will accept refugees through a separate program for Iraqis who have worked in some capacity with the U.S. government and have a well-founded fear of persecution. Those Iraqis are eligible for resettlement through a Special Immigrant Visa program and can register for resettlement through the International Organization for Migration.
In the fall, President Barack Obama will meet with Congress to determine the overall number of refugees, as well as the number of Iraqi refugees, that will be accepted into the U.S. for resettlement during 2010.