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Senate Hearing on Iraqi Refugees Highlights World’s Fastest-Growing Displacement Crisis
Refugees International Calls on U.S. to Lead Efforts to Increase Assistance
Washington, DC – Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International, will urge the U.S. to increase its financial assistance for Iraqi refugees while testifying at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “The Plight of Iraqi Refugees” today. The hearing, organized by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), features seven witnesses who will describe the situation for Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes from the ongoing violence and offer solutions to their plight. The United Nations estimates that more than 1.7 million Iraqis have been displaced to other areas inside Iraq and that another two million Iraqis have fled the country. Syria and Jordan are absorbing the greatest number of Iraqi refugees, and others are finding refuge throughout the Middle East, with growing numbers going to Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Turkey and Iran.
“With two million Iraqis having fled Iraq and another 100,000 fleeing every month, this is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world,” Mr. Bacon said. “The U.S. has a special obligation to help, since the violence in Iraq and the growing displacement comes in the aftermath of our invasion and occupation.”
Refugees International is specifically calling for increased funding to the U.S. State Department and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so that the agencies can establish programs that will protect the most vulnerable. Although the U.S. government normally contributes 25 percent of UNHCR’s budget, Mr. Bacon is urging the U.S. to double that contribution for Iraqi displacement. Jordan, Syria and other host countries need multilateral and bilateral assistance in shouldering the burden of the refugee population, including programs to resettle the most vulnerable refugees to third countries and help in sharing the costs of those who stay.
“Syria and Jordan have been generous to refugees and deserve international recognition for accepting them in large numbers, but the burdens of the large refugee population are an increasing strain,” Mr. Bacon continued. “The worst outcome would be to see Syria and Jordan close their borders to Iraqis, removing a safety valve that is saving lives. One Iraqi told us, ‘Iraqis who are unable to flee the country are now in a queue, waiting their turn to die.’ ”
In November 2006, researchers from Refugees International, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, interviewed refugees in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Iraqis told them that they had been targeted for numerous reasons – including religion, economic status, profession or affiliation with western organizations – and few expressed any desire to ever return to Iraq. However, host countries are overwhelmed by the tide of refugees and are offering little-to-no support once the Iraqis have crossed the border. Most refugees are unable to work or sustain themselves, cannot afford to rent apartments or access health care and most refugee children are not in school.
“The U.S. and Iraq are finding it difficult to stop the violence in Iraq. Until they do, the flood of refugees will continue,” Mr. Bacon concluded. “While we don’t yet know how to stabilize Iraq, we do know how to protect and support refugees. We must start now.”
For more information on Iraqi refugees, go to http://www.refugeesinternational.org.