Erik Gustafson, the executive director here at EPIC, sat down last Friday to talk to Columbia University Radio's Lisa Desai about the dramatic policy shift that will allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to come to the U.S. (listen to the broadcast). Prior to last week's announcement of the change, many U.S. officials were refusing to acknowledge that displacement was actually happening in Iraq. Now, by extending an invitation to 7,000 displaced Iraqis and pledging $18 million to assist millions fleeing the violence, the U.S. is certainly taking a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, as Iraq’s displacement crisis continues to grow at an alarming rate, much more will be needed. Given the role that the U.S. has played in helping to create the crisis, it is essential that the U.S. increase funding for the international relief operations of the UN Refugee Agency and other multilateral groups, covering at least 50% of their needed funds.
The good news is that the U.S. has the ability to fill the funding gaps facing these aid organizations. The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is calling on our leaders to provide $250 million for refugee assistance and resettlement. To put that figure into perspective, take a look at these projected U.S. spending figures for the current fiscal year:
Bullets: $851 million
Agricultural Subsidies: $16.623 billion
That means that the $250 million that USCRI is calling for is only 2.9% of what the U.S. will spend on bullets this year. And it is only 1.5% what the U.S. will spend on agricultural subsidies. It is clear that the Bush administration and Congress have the ability to mitigate the suffering of the displaced—the question is, how long will it take until they do more about it?