Defending her trip to Syria and dinner date with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed she was "assessing the ground truth" to inform spending decisions made by Congress. If that is the case, than how could Speaker Pelosi spend a day and night in Damascus, Syria without noticing the 100,000s of Iraqi refugees right outside her hotel window?
On some days, the queue of Iraqi refugees waiting outside the UN Refugee Agency's Damascus office extends for city blocks. While it is true that many of these refugees are urban ghosts -- trying to keep a low profile out of fear of deportation -- Pelosi could not possibly have spent a day and night in Damascus without learning of the crisis.
The Iraq conflict is generating the worst refugee crisis the Middle East has seen since 1948. More than 10,000 war refugees flee Iraq every month. For those lucky enough to make it across the border, the most likely destinations are Jordan and Syria. Some make it as far as Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these nations are trying to tighten their borders against the flow of war refugees, fearing the political repercussions of increased competition for scare jobs, housing and resources. In Damascus and Amman, the pressure of 100,000s of refugees have raised housing costs and diminished resources in cities that already have struggling economies.
Despite these challenges, the solution is not tighter borders or deporting families who desperately need a safe harbor from the storms of violence from which they have fled. For especially vulnerable refugees, return to Iraq is virtually a death sentence. Their fears are real. They have lost fathers, sons, and even children. They have received death threats. They have been forced to pay ransoms. They are fleeing from death squads or insurgent extremists who seek to kill them simply for belonging to the wrong sect or tribe. No, the solution is not forcing their return before it is safe. The solution is U.S. funding and international assistance for Iraq's war refugees and the countries that are stuggling to host them despite their difficulty in meeting the needs of their own populations.
While all of this goes on, the stories of Iraq's war refugees receive far too little attention in the mainstream media. The coverage they have received in the New Yorker or by CBS's 60 Minutes has been welcome, powerful, and extremely helpful. But in the realm of 24-hour-news-cycles and partisan feeding frenzy of the blogoshere, the world's fastest growing refugee crisis is hardly a blip on the screen.
Of course, responsibility does not only rest with the media and self-obsessed lonely girls of the blogoshere. It also rests with Speaker Pelosi who's honest assessment of the "ground truth" in Damascus can inform Congress regarding the Emergency Spending Bill for FY 2007, ensuring that host nations like Syria and agencies like the UNHCR receive the assistance they need to help Iraq's war refugees. Her assessment of the deteriorating situation in Iraq can also inform emergency humanitarian funding for Iraqis who have fled violence for safer parts inside Iraq.
Every reader of this blog -- especially you -- can help raise the alarm. You can become one of the blips on the radar that awakens our national conscience and alerts the world to the humanitarian emergency of more than 3 million displaced Iraqis -- many of whom desperately need our help and protection. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Tell her the "ground truth" about Iraq's war refugees, including the ones she may have passed in the streets of Damascus without knowing. They need our help.