After a draining year in Iraq with USAID in Baghdad and then as the coordinator for the reconstruction of Fallujah, I took what was supposed to be a week-long vacation in the Caribbean. In the middle of my second night, I experienced a PTSD-triggered fugue state, in which I sleep-walked out my hotel window and fell two stories to concrete. I broke both wrists, my jaw, my nose, cracked my skull, and suffered lacerations so severe that my face required nearly 70 stitches.
Toward the end of my year-long recovery from this accident, which cut short my work in Fallujah, I heard from a close Iraqi colleague of mine. He had been identified by a militia-member as he walked out of the Green Zone one afternoon. The next day, he found the severed head of a dog on his front steps, with a note pinned to it saying that his would be next. Despite his years of invaluable service to USAID, he received no help or protection from the Government, and fled to the Gulf with his wife. From there, in desperation, he wrote to me for help.
I didn’t know the first thing about the refugee resettlement process, but I wrote an op-ed about his plight and the broader Iraqi refugee crisis, which, by that time in late 2006, had already spiraled into a displacement of several million Iraqis.
Within hours of its publication, the op-ed was forwarded throughout the diaspora of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, who began writing to me for help. I opened Excel and started to enter their names into a list, which grew at an exponential rate. When I realized that there were no organizations that could help them, I founded the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, in June 2007.
The List Project has had remarkable support: eight of the world’s top law firms have provided hundreds of attorneys and well over 100,000 pro bono hours of assistance, meaning that every Iraqi on the list has access to free legal representation to help them navigate an incredibly complicated process which seems designed to reject them. Thousands of Americans have formed List Project chapters throughout the country to help resettled Iraqis succeed in their new lives here.
To date, nearly 2,000 Iraqis on the list have made it to safety here in America, including the majority of the Iraqis with whom I worked at USAID. Shamefully, many others are still languishing in Iraq and places beyond, due to the labyrinthine resettlement bureaucracy.
While the List Project had no precedent from which to work, it will hopefully serve as a starting point in future crises: my list will certainly not be the last.
60 Minutes Profile of the List Project