IRC's Involvement in the U.S.-Australia Refugee Deal: A Clear Conflict of Interest

By Nayla Rush on June 13, 2017

The U.S-Australia refugee resettlement deal I started researching in February is now well underway, as I wrote yesterday, with president Trump choosing to honor his predecessor's commitment to take in Australia's unwanted refugees.

One thing overlooked in some of the news coverage of yesterday's report is the role of a group called the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in this resettlement process.

IRC is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that is partly funded by the State Department. It is currently headed by David Miliband, a former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom.

In the case of Australia's unwanted refugees, IRC is acting both as a Resettlement Support Center (RSC) and a domestic resettlement agency (or volag) for the State Department.

A Refugee Resettlement Support Center is "an overseas processing entity" that collaborates with the State Department:

The RSC conducts an in-depth interview with the applicant, enters the applicant's documentation into the Department of State's Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System (WRAPS), cross references and verifies the data, and sends the information necessary to conduct a background check to other U.S. agencies.

In this case, the RSC based in Bangkok, which is handling Australia's unwanted refugees, is managed by the IRC. IRC describes how it assisted the State Department (for a fee of course) by helping "refugees and their families prepare their cases to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), compiling personal data and background information for security clearance."

As early as February, IRC staff interviewed and helped refugees on the two Australian-run detention centers (on the island nation of Nauru and on Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea) to build their resettlement cases to submit to U.S. officials. "Extreme vetting" interviews by U.S. DHS officials followed in March and April.

Interviews by U.S. officers, no matter how "extreme," are based on data transmitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security staff by IRC. The U.S. Department of State explains the role of private contractors like IRC in the vetting process:

U.S. national security agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, as well as the intelligence community, begin screening the applicant using the data transmitted from the RSCs." (Emphasis added).

So, the information collected by IRC staff is used by DHS officers to conduct their own interviews and background checks. IRC here has a huge responsibility. But is it disinterested?

Let's look at IRC's simultaneous role on the domestic front.

IRC is one of the nine domestic resettlement agencies (voluntary agencies or "volags") that work with, and are funded by, the Department of State to resettle refugees inside the United States. The Migration Policy Institute explains the role of the volags this way:

The major non-governmental organizations involved in the U.S. refugee resettlement program, called "Voluntary Agencies" or "Volags," are mostly religious or community-based organizations that see the care of resettling refugees as part of their core mandate…The Reception and Placement (R&P) Grant ... is given by the State Department to the various agencies according to the number of refugees for which they are responsible during the given time period.

So the same IRC that screens refugees abroad and helps them build a case to submit to U.S. officials for resettlement also gets paid per capita to receive and place them inside the United States. There is a clear conflict of interest here.

One last thing: IRC has been an outspoken critic of President Trump's efforts to pause the refugee resettlement program for assessment. In January it called on its supporters to:

Oppose President's Trump's ban on refugees" because "[t]hese changes fly in the face of our country's best values of freedom, fairness and compassion. ... Slam the door on hate. Oppose President Trump's unjust refugee Executive Order. ... Take Action. Call your members of Congress." (Emphasis added.)

And in May IRC issued a press release applauding the Fourth Circuit ruling on the travel ban:

We are very pleased that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the Trump Administration's harmful order banning Muslims — including refugees — from seeking entry and protection in America, because it is blatantly unconstitutional. The courts have been key to preventing the enforcement of President Trump's hasty and harmful executive order..." (Emphasis added.)

I ask President Trump, is this the organization you want to collaborate with and rely on for part of the "extreme vetting" process you promised voters?