Friday, May 25, 2007

NGOs Meet to Coordinate Advocacy on Iraq Crisis

EPIC's Erik Gustafson addresses the Iraqi Refugee Roundtable Strategy Session at Georgetown Law School (EPIC Photo/Chris Breuer - 5/24/07)Yesterday, I attended a roundtable strategy session tackling the challenge of Iraq's war refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Refugee Council USA hosted the gathering, which included representatives from operational NGOs such as International Medical Corps and the International Rescue Committee, as well as research and advocacy organizations Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and EPIC.

Being involved in this meeting of minds was exciting. The room buzzed with creativity, and each organization had a unique perspective to offer. I was particularly interested to meet
Kirk Johnson, an advocate of resettling Iraqi refugees who worked for the U.S. and international organizations.

The roundtable kicked off by examining the refugee crisis in its current and future stages. Victor Tanner of SAIS, along with Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch, highlighted important differences between the refugee policies of Syria and Jordan. The Jordanian government’s treatment of refugees has been hardline. As Tanner pointed out, Jordan sees the Iraqi refugee population as a threat to national security and even national identity. In a land of 5.63 million people, Jordan has
1.7 million Palestinian refugees (many living as citizens), 500,000-800,000 Iraqi refugees from the 1990 Iraq war, plus 700,000 to a million Iraqi refugees who have fled sectarian violence resulting from the 2003 invasion.

Syria has been more welcoming to Iraqis for a number of reasons. Syrians have a keen sense of Arab nationalism and feel a sense of pride about letting Iraqis into their country. In addition, Syrians have a diplomatic card to play, especially in relation to the west. But Syria's infrastructure will struggle to cope with Iraqis as they continue to enter the country at such an alarming rate.

Later, the roundtable focused on the U.S. and UK, which bear considerable responsibility for the displacement of Iraqis. These countries need to dedicate significant funds to resettling tens of thousands of refugees each year, and supporting Iraq’s neighbors and the greater Middle East with this crisis.

We also recognized that creativity and new approaches are essential. For example, Norway, one of the most expensive countries in Europe, has proposed turning its openings for refugees into money for resettlement elsewhere, money that will go much further in a country such as Chile, which itself has proposed resettling 100 refugees over the following year.

EPIC’s own Erik Gustafson talked about some of successful programs helping refugees, a theme brought up by representatives of Relief International, International Medical Corps and the International Rescue Committee. These relief organizations have implemented initiatives including management of mobile health clinics and school construction and rehabilitation. Although the issue at times appears overwhelming, it is important to recall that there are successes in the region and that the Iraqi refugees can be helped.


Emily Stivers said...

Chris, can you tell us more about what different countries are doing to resettle Iraqi refugees and IDPs? Norway's idea seems a good one. Might other wealthy nations follow suit?

Chris Breuer said...

Sweden has arguably been the most responsible actor in the Iraqi refugee crisis. The country has already resettled thousands of Iraqis and last week, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt announced plans to resettle 25,000 more, according to the LA Times. The EU acknowledged the crisis as early as February of this year and pledged to help Sweden with its daunting refugee population, but little, if anything, has been done in this regard. There is little evidence that other nations intend to follow Norway's example; in fact, we see counter evidence. Deutsche Welle reports sad firgures: only 1 to 2 percent of Iraqis were granted asylum in Germany in the first 11 months of 2006. Denmark is in the process of deporting 80% of its 650 Iraqi asylum seekers. We should not rely on our Scandinavian allies to bear the brunt of the Iraqi refugee flow; rather, we need to step up our efforts to encourage other countries, especially Britain and the U.S., to take the ethically responsible path of resettlement.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting information. Can't believe Sweden is showing us up!

And I always knew there was something rotten in the state of Denmark...

Hopefully the U.S. will learn from these successes and failures and create a more responsible policy for Iraqi refugees.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

It's good to know my native Sweden is stepping up. Let's hope the U.S. starts demonstrating the same leadership soon.

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