Info Service on Health Issues (January 07/06)
US offers scant help to fleeing Iraqis
million Iraqis have fled Iraq and some 100,000 are fleeing every month
making this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Human rights
groups say the US is not doing enough in the light of its disproportionate
responsibility for the situation. The following story is reproduced
with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #6172,
19 January 2007.
Iraq: US offers scant
help to fleeing refugees
By Jim Lobe, IPS, Washington,
17 January 2007
With some two million of
its citizens having fled to other countries and another 1.7 million
internally displaced, Iraq has become one of the world's biggest and
fastest growing humanitarian crises for which the United States should
take far more responsibility, according to human rights groups and other
The administration of President George W. Bush, which is currently spending
roughly $30 million a day on military operations in Iraq, has earmarked
only $20 million for Iraqi humanitarian needs in bilateral aid for all
of 2007, the administration's senior refugee official, Assistant Secretary
of State Ellen Sauerbrey, told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
It has also granted refugee status to only 466 Iraqis since 2003, she
told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which called on the administration
to be far more generous both in providing aid to alleviate the refugee
crisis and in offering asylum to fleeing Iraqis, particularly those
who have worked for the US military and occupation authorities.
"We should not repeat the tragic and immoral mistake from the Vietnam
era and leave friends without a refuge and subject to violent reprisals,"
the committee's chairman, Patrick Leahy, told Sauerbrey, who said that
she considered the admission of Iraqis to the US to be a "top priority"
for her office.
Some 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country every month, according to
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has recently appealed
for $60 million for 2007 to cope with the crisis.
Normally, Washington would be expected to provide about 25% of such
an appeal, but rights groups are calling on the US to do much more in
light of its disproportionate responsibility for the situation.
"With two million Iraqis having fled Iraq and another 100,000 fleeing
every month, this is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world,"
said Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International (RI). Another 40,000
to 50,000 people a month are leaving their homes for other, presumably
safer parts of the country, he noted, quoting estimates by UNHCR.
"The US has a special obligation to help, since the violence in
Iraq and the growing displacement comes in the aftermath of our invasion
and occupation," he told the Senate committee. "Because of
our role in the conflict, we should consider doubling (our normal) contribution
for Iraqi refugees."
"The cost to the United States of helping Iraqi refugees in the
region is modest, but it's the difference between life and death for
hundreds of thousands," said Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch.
"Washington is spending about $2 billion per week on the war in
Iraq, but has barely begun to address the human fallout from the war,"
The burden of the refugee flow is falling mainly on Jordan and Syria
whose social welfare and education systems have been unable to absorb
the influx. UNHCR estimates that some 700,000 Iraqis are currently living
in Jordan and another 600,000 in Syria.
"Syria and Jordan have been generous to refugees and deserve international
recognition for accepting them in large numbers," Bacon said. "But
the burdens of the large refugee population are an increasing strain.
Real estate prices and rents are rising quickly in Damascus and Amman;
schools and hospitals are crowded. Deportations are becoming more common."
Jordan has shut its border to Iraqi men between the ages of 17 and 35,
as well as to a growing number of Palestinian refugees who had been
living in Iraq under the protection of former President Saddam Hussein
but who have been turned out of their homes since the 2003 invasion.
As a result, a growing number of Palestinians, who are legally stateless
and unable to enter Syria as well, have been stranded along Iraq's border
with its two neighbours. Frelick pointed out that their failure to permit
the refugees to enter constituted a violation of international refugee
law. Neither Jordan nor Syria has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.
For her part, Sauerbreay admitted that Washington had failed to fully
anticipate the seriousness of the refugee crisis or the speed with which
it has developed over the past year, particularly since the intensification
of sectarian violence after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra
"Due to the upsurge in sectarian violence in 2006, (the) trend
of repatriation (after the 2003 invasion) reversed itself, and, at present
more Iraqis are fleeing their homes to other areas of Iraq and to neighbouring
countries than are returning," she said, stressing, however, that
many of those currently counted as refugees in neighbouring countries
have been living there since before 2003.
Tuesday's hearing featured testimony by two Iraqis who have been admitted
to the US and who had worked for the US military during the occupation.
Both testified under pseudonyms and behind a green curtain.
One, a former interpreter, said he received a series of threats on his
life and left at the urging of the US soldiers with whom he worked first
in 2004. During a brief visit home the following year, he was injured
in a car bombing that he said he believed was aimed at him.
The State Department has 70,000 slots set aside for refugees to be admitted
to the US each year, but less than 6,000 are allocated to refugees from
the Middle East and South Asia. An additional 20,000 slots, however,
are "unallocated reserves".
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter, urged Sauerbrey
to immediately allocate those slots to Iraqis who are now at risk as
a result of their association with the United States. "Why not
use them now when there is such a crushing need?" he asked.
Sauerbrey agreed in principle but stressed that financing for them must
still be found. "This issue is the very top priority in my bureau,"
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