According to the International Herald Tribune, the State Department’s senior coordinator for Iraqi refugees, James Foley, met with Syria’s foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, to discuss the Iraqi refugee situation in Syria. Such high level diplomatic contacts are a positive sign since contacts between the US and Syria are rare given their mutual animosities and criticisms. For example, consider the following quote by TLP’s founder, Kirk Johnson from an interview with MSNBC:
…we’re letting Damascus dictate our abilities. The refugee process got frozen for seven months in Syria because Department of Homeland Security agents couldn’t get stamps in their passports.
Despite past hurdles, it is clear that Syria and the US need to coordinate their efforts since both have an incentive: Syria needs to lessen the burden upon its society due to its huge refugee population and for the US, pressure is building to resettle more Iraqis.
James Foley is part of the State Department and reports to Condoleezza Rice, who ostensibly reports to President Bush about the refugee crisis. However, certain refugee advocates on Capitol Hill, such as senators Ted Kennedy, Joseph Biden, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith; believe this position within the State bureaucracy is not forceful enough. Last Friday, on World Refugee Day, these senators introduced a bill to establish a White House level position for the coordination of Iraqi refugee policies. The bill seeks to bring the issue onto a higher priority level than it already is now by creating this special position.