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More Iraqi Fulbrighters Seek Asylum

Molly Hennessy-Fiske has interviewed several Iraqi Fulbrighters, who want to stay in the United States, but are told to honor their Fulbright contract: "Before foreign Fulbright scholars arrive in the U.S. they sign a contract promising to return to their homes for at least two years before pursuing permanent U.S. jobs or residency."
Other exchange programs are less restrictive, but the Fulbright program's mission is that the grantees return to their home countries and apply the skills they learned in the US. The Institute for International Education (IIE), which is contracted by the Department of State to run the Fulbright program, cannot give advice to Fulbrighters on seeking asylum.
The IIE, however, runs another program called the Scholar Rescue Fund, which is financed by the federal government and some foundations. The Scholar Rescue Fund "has helped resettle 100 academics since 2002, and members of Congress want to set aside millions in Iraq war funding to aid more," but Fulbrighters are not eligible.

The United States has admitted very few refugees from Iraq:

In the last fiscal year, which ended in June, the United States admitted 133 Iraqi refugees. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. has accepted 833 Iraqi refugees, according to the International Rescue Committee. The State Department has promised to admit 3,000 Iraqi refugees by September, but many refugee advocates say the department's lengthy processing time will allow them to admit only 1,500.

It is not (only) the United States that is sending the Iraqi Fulbrighters back:

The Iraqi Minister of Higher Education in 2006 urged U.S. officials to block Fulbright scholars from extending their U.S. student visas. "We discourage them to stay in the U.S." because Fulbright scholars are supposed to "help better Iraq in the future" by returning, said Dr. Hadi al Khalili, cultural attache at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.

While a growing number of Iraqi students is applying for asylum in the United States, many others want to return, for instance Ali Fadhil, who is finishing a master's degree in journalism at New York University this fall:

Fadhil's father is a Sunni Muslim, his mother, a Shiite. His family still lives in Baghdad, and Fadhil, a married father of two, felt compelled to return to Iraq. This summer, Fadhil is filming an HBO documentary about Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital and another for ESPN about corruption in government-sponsored sports. His wife and children have been granted asylum in the United States, but Fadhil plans to return to Baghdad this winter. "Iraqi Fulbrights should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they want to, but the goal should be to serve their country," he said.

Read the full article in the Los Angeles Times, free registration required. Thank you, Pat, for recommending this article. Fair Use Webcustomers provides a copy of the article as well.

Related post in the Atlantic Review from November 2006:  Iraqi Fulbrighters Speak about their Concerns


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Pat Patterson on :

I couldn't really find any examples of Fulbright alumni being targetted in their home country simply for being Fulbright alumni(are there examples?), spawns of the devil and that sort of thing. But still I would hate to be the one writing the letter to inform Mr. Fadhil that he must honor the terms if there were any reliable information that his life was in danger when he returned. But then it wouldn't be the first time an overseas scholar, not necessarily a Fulbrighter, decided that living in the Great Satan was more attractive then returning home. I suppose a good lawyer, say a Sen. Edwards an Alan Dershowitz or some cowboy booted trail lawyer from Arkansas, could go into court and plead to set aside the contract on the grounds of mistake. That Mr. Fadhil didn't understand the consequences of acceptance and fulfilling the contract and being killed as the direct result would certainly not benefit either party.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

I don't have information re your question. Academics in general seem to be a primary target in Iraq, according to a few discussions on a Fulbright mailing list about three years ago and according to this article: [url][/url] A bit more info about the Scholars Rescue Fund mentioned in the blog post. July 17, Inside Higher Ed: Saving Iraq's Scholars [url][/url] [i]IIE’s president and CEO, Allan E. Goodman, said Friday that the institute has been in communication with the Iraqi minister of higher education, who has identified hundreds of scholars with specific death threats against them. That cooperation is part of what is unusual about this initiative — such efforts often focus on helping professors in conflict with their governments. But Iraq is obviously facing a unique and more urgent predicament: some estimates put the number of Iraqi professors killed since 2003 at around 300, although Goodman said that number is likely deflated as hundreds more are missing or kidnapped. [b]“The Iraq situation is the closest we’ve come to the Holocaust”[/b] in terms of systematic attacks on professors, Goodman said. “The terrorist groups seem to be trying to wipe out the intellectual capital of what was once Iraq.”[/i] More about the Scholar Rescue Fund [url][/url]

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

@ Pat "But then it wouldn't be the first time an overseas scholar, not necessarily a Fulbrighter, decided that living in the Great Satan was more attractive then returning home." Great Satan is a term used in Iran, not Iraq. The US used to be on Iraq's side in the war against Iran. Anyway, sure, abuse is -- as always -- possible. Though, the US might also benefit from Iraqi brain drain... The US and the scholars benefit, and Iraq loses. In fact, I am sure, there are all kinds of conspiracy theories about the US robbing Iraqi resources: oil and brains. While you are concerned about Iraqis abusing asylum laws, some Iraqis might accuse the US of... whatever. Let's think about how many scholars have emigrated to the US in the last 100 years and how much the US has benefited from them... I think the US is the country that has benefited more than any other country in the world from the migrations of scholars. Much more than Britain, France, Australia, Japan etc. Anyway, what's your position Iraqi personnel that worked with the US in Iraq as interpretators etc. Would you give them refugee status in the US? Denmark has done so with the Iraqis working for them.

Don S on :

"Great Satan is a term used in Iran, not Iraq. The US used to be on Iraq's side in the war against Iran." Well - it began in Iraq, but hasn't it metasticized since?

Sam White on :

The problem for Iraqi fulbright scholars is different, because in addition to being targeted as scholars, they are being targeted as being lived/studied in the US. There are no examples yet, because The first group of Fulbright Alumni graduated last year. Definitely most of them avoided going back to Iraq under such circumstances. Or at least they went back to the safe zone in the northern kurdish area.

Pat Patterson on :

Absolutely, I live in a county that, aside from a few of our resident nativists, was and still is the most open and welcoming place in the world for the South Vietnamese fleeing the NVA and also the later waves of boat people. Just this last election cycle the child of one of those refugee families was elected to the county board of supervisors. Recently, in different classes, sons of former South Vietnamese Army and Air Force officers were appointed to the USMA at West Point. Though it has been tough on some of the local football and basketball coachs as, aside from Yao, most of these refugees and their children are vertically challenged, The reference to the Great Satan was a bit overwrought. I tutored many Persian and Saudi students in the late 70's while in graduate school. Often having to listen to dozens of complaints of what a terrible place the US was but the litany would usually end in asking could I advise them on how to stay when their student visas or dad's money ran out. Interesting link to the Scholar Rescue Fund.

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