Iraqi refugees in Turkey seek move to US

( AP ) - The 25-year-old Iraqi refugee's money is running out. He lives in a tiny, shared studio - sleeping on the sofa, jobless and isolated in a country where he can't speak the language, hoping the United States will let him in.

But just thinking of getting to the States makes his face light up. He adds - with big smile - that he's staying single so "I'll be available for American women as soon as I get there."

It's when he thinks about his current life that that Mirogi, who fled Iraq after working for a U.S. contractor, gets dejected. He turns to his guitar - his "companion in loneliness," he calls it - and strums a sad Iraqi folk tune.

"We are supposed to knock on the ( U.S.) embassy's doors, instead of the U.N.'s," he said, referring to his repeated interviews with the U.N. refugee agency, the first stop for Iraqis seeking resettlement in the United States. "Time is running out, as well as my money. I cannot work or ask for help from my parents, because I should be helping them, not the other way around."

The United States has been painfully slow in its promises to resettle thousands of Iraqis driven from their homeland by war - and it's only getting slower. For the third straight month, the number admitted in December declined amid bureaucratic infighting in Washington, despite repeated promises to speed it up.

Just 245 Iraqi refugees were admitted in December - far short of the administration's goal of 1,000 per month.

The holdup is frustrating for Iraqis in Turkey, many of whom chose to flee here believing they had a better chance of making it to the United States.

"We came here hoping to get resettled faster to the States. In other countries, there is a long line of people waiting, here fewer numbers have applied," said Methaq Hermiz, Marogi's apartment mate and fellow refugee. Hermiz, who fled to Turkey in August, occupies the tiny apartment's bedroom, along with his wife and their 4-month-old daughter.

Only around 10,000 Iraqis are believed to be in Turkey, compared with 1.5 million in Syria and 750,000 in Jordan - out of a wave of more than 2 million Iraqis who have fled the turmoil since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Some have returned to Iraq as the violence dropped in their homeland, but the bulk of the Iraqi refugees are still too nervous to venture back or want to resume their lives elsewhere.

In Turkey, Iraqis face numerous obstacles on top of those faced by their fellow refugees in Arab countries. High among them, the language difference - few Iraqis speak Turkish, making finding even informal jobs difficult and further isolating refugees. Prices, which are on a European level, are higher than in Arab countries. The Turkish government requires many refugees to live in areas distant from the main cities, breaking their support networks.

But so far they do appear to have gotten to the U.S. in a faster proportion than elsewhere, given their numbers. So far, 939 Iraqis in Turkey have been resettled to the U.S. and 37 more have been accepted and are expected to go soon, according to Metin Corbatir, the spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Ankara.

That is out of a total 2,665 that the United States has taken in - a number that is far lower than Washington has promised. To meet its goal of 12,000 resettled in fiscal year 2008, some 1,215 Iraqis a month would have to arrive in the U.S.

Corbatir would not say whether resettlement was faster from Turkey, but he acknowledged they may appear so because the Turkish office has longer experience with resettlement to the United States.

Refugee advocates have criticized the process, saying the United States has a moral responsibility to take in Iraqis quickly, particularly those who risked their lives working for the U.S. military or contractors in Iraq.

Marogi and Hermiz - who both worked as engineers for the Texas-based construction firm Tetra Technologies Inc. - are bitter over the slow pace. Marogi said U.S. officials "were not doing enough to help out" despite the risks he ran working for the Americans.

Marogi fled Iraq after one of his neighbors in the northern city of Kirkuk who had been working for the Americans was kidnapped and killed by insurgents. Marogi's terrified parents made him quit his job and flee the country.

He came to Turkey because his friend and fellow Christian, Hermiz, also planned to come here, after militants sent a death threat to his home in the northern city of Mosul, denouncing "traitors who work for the American infidel occupiers."

They and Hermiz's wife Reema now share the $900-a-month apartment. All are jobless, unable to get work permits.

"In the beginning I was happy to come here, then I realized that we will never survive in such an expensive place for a long time," said the 27-year-old Reema. "I cry every day thinking that soon we will run out of money and be unable to buy milk for the baby."

Christians make up 39 percent of the Iraqi refugee community in Turkey, with another 28 percent Muslim Arabs and 23 percent ethnic Turkomans, who are related to Turks and speak a similar language. Another 7 percent are Kurds.

In Kurtulus, a southern district of Istanbul where many of the refugees have found homes, Iraqis were seen shopping in the markets, negotiating in English with Turkish shopkeepers over vegetables. Only a few, have picked up informal jobs in local textile workshops or, for the lucky ones with a smattering of Turkish, in restaurants as waiters or cooks.

Bassel Gorial used to run three shops in Baghdad, earning about a $1,000 a month. Since arriving Turkey over two years ago, he has been working to pick up Turkish and got a job washing dishes at a restaurant for about $500 a month.

"My job can barely help me with the bills," said the 39-year-old Gorial. "It is not enough for the $400 rent, or for my three children."

"I cannot find any more patience, I have been waiting for a long time and no one cares," he said.

Turkish law forbids refugees from living for an extended period in the big cities, so up to 60 percent have been forced to move to provincial cities in central Turkey, fragmenting the community and distancing them from wider job opportunities.

Nezar Gerges was forced to leave Istanbul to Konya province, about 270 miles southeast of the capital Ankara. The 28-year-old accountant sneaks into Istanbul every 15 days to work for a week as a laborer.

But a worse blow was that his resettlement request to America was rejected.

"I am in desperate need for any help," said Gerges. "They (Americans) invaded us, caused all that chaos in our country and now they have forsaken us."

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