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EU Reaches Deal to Admit More Iraqi Refugees

3:31 PM, Dec 1, 2008 • By ULF GARTZKE
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For at least 10,000 of the more than two million Iraqi refugees currently stranded in neighboring countries such Syria and Jordan, last Thursday will probably be forever remembered as a special day of Thanksgiving. That day, the EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to admit up to 10,000 of Iraq's most vulnerable refugees -- i.e., persecuted religious minorities like Christians, rape victims as well as those in need of urgent medical treatment -- to the 27-nation bloc on a voluntary basis. (Iraqi immigration to the United States has increased as well -- up from 1,600 in 2007 to over 12,000 this year.) The key player behind the deal was Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's thoughtful conservative CDU interior minister and a long-time advocate of targeted German / European support for the besieged Iraqi Christian communities.

Berlin, for its part, has already agreed to resettle up to 2,500 Iraqis (a quarter of the entire EU quota) beginning in early 2009. The Iraqis will be immediately given the best-possible refugee status under German law: a renewable three-year residence and work permit which would allow them to apply for German citizenship in about eight years from now. After participating in intensive language training and cultural immersion courses, the 2,500 Iraqis will be settling across Germany's 16 different regional states, all of which had previously voted in favor of the refugee deal. The future renewal of the initial three-year residence and work permits will not be contingent upon Iraq's political / security situation on the ground in 2012 (in fact, only those convicted of criminal charges could potentially see their stay in Germany cut short).The Iraqi refugee deal represents a belated yet important victory for Germany's conservative CDU/CSU leaders as well as the country's Catholic and Protestant churches, both of which had long lobbied Chancellor Merkel to get her to sign on to the program. In fact, earlier this summer, Angela Merkel had suddenly dropped her support for the resettlement deal following assurances by visiting Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki that his government would take steps to better protect Iraq's highly-educated Christian minorities. Merkel's sudden volte-face led to a serious clash with Germany's top Catholic and Protestant leaders, who urged immediate government action following grim on-the-ground reports about the plight of the Iraqi refugees by German fact-finding teams dispatched to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. While Germany's church leaders have already welcomed the EU refugee deal, they are now hoping for further action given the sheer scale and scope of the humanitarian catastrophe.