Can you even imagine losing loved ones and being driven from your home and possessions by sectarian violence, crossing over dangerous roads into an unfamiliar country, not being able to find housing or employment there and, wondering where your next meal is coming from, having no choice but to turn - or ask a family member to turn - to prostitution?
That's the story told in a new Brookings Institution - University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement paper, Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-Based Snapshot. This thorough, disturbing study describes how "violence and lawlessness in Iraq drives tens of thousands of families from their home every month" to Syria alone, as well as the precarious state of Syria's infrastructure and ability to support these vulnerable refugees.
In our lead-up to the UN World Refugee Day on June 20th, EPIC is going to shine its spotlight more than ever on the Iraqi refugee crisis - the worst humanitarian disaster in the Middle East in 60 years.
According to an editorial from Monday's Washington Post, two to four million Iraqis have fled their homeland in the last four years, with an additional 20,000 to 30,000 leaving each month. Although Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Iraq pose are difficult to count, most refugees head for Jordan or Syria, where public services are strained and nationalist tensions are increasing. And many of these refugees are female-headed-households in which women are being forced to take desperate measures in order to provide for their families.
So far, the U.S. has not lived up to its responsibility to these people, admitting only 701 refugees since the start of the war and only TWO in as many months. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced important legislation to do more, and we'll be telling you more about that and asking you to take action to support it in coming days. So keep checking back for updates.
Yesterday, Erik and I met with allies from Refugee Council USA, the Brookings Institution, Interaction, Refugees International, the Church World Service and others to prepare for upcoming Congressional appropriations debates. Since the recently-passed supplemental spending bill failed to earmark sufficient funding for Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and set aid levels for several crucial programs well below what we deemed essential, we had a lot to discuss in terms of strategies for our new requests. Between us, we have lots of great ideas.
In light of this horrible crisis, If we can restore hope for even a few Iraqi families, I know our work will be well worthwhile.