Iraqi interpreters who worked with US troops during the war are now facing death threats and other dangers as they anxiously await special visas they hoped to get from the American government, The Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
Thousands of Iraqis who served as interpreters for Americans, offering valuable insights into Iraq's customs and rivalries, are stuck in limbo as the US withdrawal from Iraq draws to a close and the process for obtaining American visas has slowed.
The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, passed in 2008, aimed to provide fast-track status to Iraqis who served the US government or military. Though it allowed 5,000 visas per year, just 3,415 in total have been issued to Iraqis as of October 2011, according to the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. More than 62,000 Iraqis had applied through the special visa program, though many have dropped out, the Times reported.
The visa process has slowed even further since May, when two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky for providing support for Al Qaeda.
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"I served the Americans very well, but now they've left me on my own, with no security," Tariq, a 27-year-old former interpreter, told the Los Angeles Times. "They've expelled us all from the only places in Iraq that were safe for us — US bases."
Tariq was an interpreter for the military, and lived on a secure US base until his unit left Iraq on October 13. He has been hiding in his parents' home since, and regularly receives death threats from insurgents.
The State Department's National Visa Center has been ordered to flag special visa applications for expedited action.
"We are making changes, ordered at the very highest levels, that will help shave time off the application process," an official at the US Embassy in Baghdad told the Times.
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