I've been so busy working on several projects related to Iraqi refugees that I almost completely forgot to mention here that today is World Refugee Day. I was reminded by a mailing from the office of Senator Bob Casey, who just delivered a speech on the floor about Iraqi refugees:
Wherever one stands on the future of the U.S. combat presence in Iraq, we have a moral responsibility to those innocent Iraqis who have been driven from their homes and fear for their lives and their children’s lives every day.
Violence and sectarian conflict are an ever present reality in Iraq, driving away anywhere from one to two thousand Iraqis from their homes every day.
The numbers are sobering. One in five Iraqis have been displaced. The UNHCR estimates more than 4.7 million Iraqis have left their homes, many in dire need of humanitarian care. Of these, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally, while more than 2 million have fled to neighboring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. In 2006, Iraqis became the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe. I witnessed firsthand the challenges facing Iraqi refugees last August when I spent time in Jordan meeting with United Nations and International Organization for Migration personnel. I can report that Iraqi refugees throughout the region have become increasingly desperate and have no where to turn.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the Iraqi Government has proven to be unwilling and unable to respond to the needs of vulnerable Iraqis. While the Government has access to significant oil revenue, it is divided along sectarian lines and lacks both the institutional capacity and the political will to effectively address the growing crisis. Sectarian militia groups like the Mahdi Army are quickly filling this vacuum to provide services. The largest “humanitarian” organization in Iraq today is the Sadrist movement affiliated with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose programs provide shelter and food to hundreds of thousands of Shiites in Iraq.
The international community, including the United States, has been largely in denial over the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis. Until recently, the conversation was always dominated by talk of reconstruction and development rather than addressing the basic, urgent needs of ordinary Iraqis. The United Nations only just issued a common humanitarian appeal for Iraq. We here in the United States have a moral responsibility to do right by the millions of Iraqis that have been driven away from their homes, particularly for those that have risked their lives to assist our country.
I don't have time today to write any more about this (partly because I'm in the middle of something directly related) but here are a few useful resources on the current state of the Iraqi refugee situation. Feel free to post more in the comments section - this isn't meant to be all-inclusive, just the ones close at hand:
- The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has just released its semi-annual overview of the situation of internally displaced Iraqis in all provinces.
- UNHCR has just released a press release on Iraqi children, and another from UNICEF.
- Refugees International on the Iraqi Displacement Crisis
- Amnesty International on refugees in Syria and inside Iraq;
- The most recent press release I could find from Save the Children, with links to more
- The Ground Truth, a new blog run by EPIC devoted to the refugee problem
Good for Senator Casey for drawing attention to this issue, and for the whole range of NGOs and international organizations which have not ignored these refugees and which have tried to help and to raise awareness. Much more is needed, from the United States, from the Iraqi government, and from the international community.