Today’s United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations addressed the challenges facing the United States as it continues its drawdown and plans for the eventual withdrawal of its military forces from Iraq. Among the topics discussed were the plight of Iraqi refugees and IDP’s and how the United States is dealing with the issue.
The following is a selected excerpt from the hearing, featuring a question addressed to Ambassador James Jeffrey by Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, who has for a long time has been a proponent of helping at-risk Iraqis:
At previous hearings, including one with Secretary Clinton, I’ve raised the issues of the refugees, and of the internally displaced individuals, and was assured that this is one of the highest priorities of our government is to make sure that these issues are attended to by the Iraqis and that there is attention given to the plight of the refugees. It is my understanding that there’s still a large number of refugees in Syria, in Jordan, and other neighboring countries, and that there are many Iraqis that have been internally displaced that have not been able to go back to their original communities. The longer this issue is left outstanding, a de-facto situation exists that makes it almost impossible for people to be able to return to their communities.
Can you give me a status as to where we are and what the U.S. position is in regards to making this a priority in our relationship with Iraq?
[I’ll] Give it a try senator. First of all, this is one of our largest priorities. In past years we’ve put well over 300 million dollars a year into refugee assistance for Iraq. We also have several programs to bring Iraqi[s] refugees to the United States. Over the past number of years, we’ve brought at least 78,000 to the United States. Last year it was approximately 18,000 and it generally stays at about that level.
In terms of the numbers, the UNHCR has registered about 200,000 in Jordan and Syria. We and the Iraqis believe there’s considerably more there. These people have family, tribal, professional and other contacts with their neighboring Arab countries and it’s easy for them to move back and forth, so the number is considerably larger than that.
In terms of internally displaced folks, there is about 1.5 million that were displaced after the violence beginning in 2006 in Sammara, and there were about 1.2 million displaced, again, internally prior to that. So it’s very, very large number of people, again we have many programs; health, food, direct grants and others through various NGO’s, the UNHCR, the IOM and other programs to help them. We’re also working with the Iraqis because as the oil revenues increase and Iraq grows more prosperous we would expect the Iraqis to do more. They’ve recently increased substantially the amount of money they are providing the internally displaced refugees and we are working with them to over time take this over.
Well, I appreciate that answer and I strongly support the relocation of Iraqis who’ve assisted the United States here in America, who are at risk in their own country, and we’ve worked hard to get those numbers up. And I also very much support the efforts of our financial assistance for, along with the international community, to help the refugees.
Watch the full hearing here:
United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Iraq: The Challenging Transition to a Civilian Mission