The United States has surpassed its goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year and expects more, perhaps tens of thousands, next year, the State Department said on Friday.
The United States expects to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009, which begins October 1, the department's senior coordinator for refugees said. Thousands more Iraqis and their family members could arrive via a special visa program for people who worked for the United States or its contractors.
"I think you'll see the U.S. government admitting over the course of fiscal 2009 tens of thousands of Iraqis into the United States," coordinator James Foley told reporters.
Up to 3,000 could come from Baghdad, where the United States launched interviews this year, he said.
So far this year 12,118 Iraqi refugees have arrived and another 1,000 are booked to travel to the United States by the end of this month, when the U.S. fiscal year ends, he said.
This marks a huge leap from just 1,600 Iraqis who were admitted in the previous year, a number that drew widespread criticism from refugee groups who said Washington should do more to help solve a crisis affecting millions of Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
But it is still lower than the number some other countries have taken. Sweden, a country of 9 million people, has admitted over 40,000 Iraqis since 2003.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 2 million Iraqis are living abroad, mostly in neighboring Jordan and Syria. More than 2.5 million are internally displaced.
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