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Refugees International Warns U.S. Must Not Shirk Humanitarian Responsibilities as Military Departs Iraq

Washington, D.C. – Refugees International President L. Craig Johnstone today called for a greater U.S. commitment to more than two million Iraqis who have fled their homes due to conflict and fear of persecution during seven years of U.S. engagement in Iraq.

“As the U.S. military departs Iraq it is leaving behind nearly 500,000 Iraqi refugees – mainly in Syria and Jordan – and one and a half million Iraqis who have been uprooted from their homes, many of whom live in total destitution in shanty towns of Iraq,” said L. Craig Johnstone, President of Refugees International. “This is the tragic legacy of the conflict in Iraq and as the United States disengages militarily it would be unconscionable to abandon our responsibilities to these civilian victims of war.”

Ambassador Johnstone testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing, “No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies.” Johnstone is former Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and former U.S. Ambassador and Director for Resources, Plans and Policy in the Department of State. Recalling his own experiences in Vietnam, he called on Congress and the Administration to step up to its commitment to Iraqi refugees, as it did after the fall of Saigon.

“The United States was woefully unprepared for the collapse of South Vietnam and unfortunately the prevailing attitude bordered on callous disregard for the well being of the many Vietnamese civilians the U.S. was about to leave behind,” stated Johnstone. “But as Saigon was falling, the nation mobilized with unprecedented effort, opening its arms to welcome to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. We now face an analogous situation in Iraq, and the United States must again wake up to its responsibility – this time to the millions of Iraqi civilians displaced by the war.” Johnstone asked Congress to expand the program that has resettled some 48,000 Iraqis in the Unites States, and to provide greater financial and social support for refugees struggling to rebuild their lives.

Seven years after the beginning of the war in Iraq, an unprecedented number of Iraqis are still living in squatter slums filled with open sewers and lacking water and electricity. Most of the squatter settlements are located precariously under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps. Following visits this year to 20 different squatter settlements throughout Iraq, RI found that nearly 500,000 Iraqis are left living in squalor receiving little help from the Iraqi government, aid agencies and the United Nations.

Johnstone called on Congress and the Administration to fund at least 50 percent of the United Nations humanitarian appeals for Iraq and noted that to date it has funded only 23 percent of the some $700 million requested. “The United States must fund humanitarian efforts in proportion to its responsibility,” stated Johnstone.

RI also recommended that the UN adapt its security measures so that humanitarian officials can access squatter communities regularly and provide assistance. “UN and U.S. officials need to get out of the Green Zone and work the problem where it is, in the slums, in the cardboard shelters that go without electricity or sewage systems,” stated Johnstone.

In February RI staff traveled to Iraq, Jordan and Syria where they interviewed displaced people, local and national government officials and international agencies. Since November 2006, the organization has conducted eleven missions to the Middle East and has led the call to increase assistance and solutions for displaced Iraqis. To read the report, go to: http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/iraq-humanitari...

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. www.refugeesinternational.org.

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For Immediate Release: July 22, 2010
Contact: Refugees International, Gabrielle Menezes
P: 202-828-0110 x225
gabrielle@refugeesinternational.org