Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Dying in the Desert": Congressional Briefing Addresses Needs of Iraqi Children

'I'm dying in the desert' - A Palestinian Iraqi refugee, in a camp on the Syrian border, holds up a sign she made herself. [UNHCR photo 7/25/07]The picture at left was taken four days ago at the Al-Walid refugee camp, located within Iraq about a kilometer from the Syrian border. The little girl, along with nine other young children in her camp, will be dead before the end of the year.

This according to the photographer, Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. On Wednesday, he addressed a gathering of Members of Congress, Congressional staff, the nonprofit community and the media, describing the plight of the 2 million refugees forced to flee Iraq and the additional 2 million internally displaced.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) speaks at the Congressional briefing on Iraqi refugees [EPIC photo: Emily Stivers 7/25/07]U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), an original cosponsor of the Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R. 2265), introduced the Ambassador. "This is, in many ways, a very personal issue for me," she said, "because it is widely reflected in my District, where we have lots of Assyrian Christians and Iraqi Christians who are among those targeted groups in danger in Iraq. Many are trying to leave Iraq and have been unable to do so."

Ambassador Johnstone's focus, however, was on the children. Part of his recent mission was to help open Jordanian schools to the estimated 500,000 Iraqi refugees there. The situation in Syria is slightly better, but a low estimate of 40% of the roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria are going without basic education and health services. "We desperately need a lot of take care of the educational needs of Iraqi children in Jordan and in Syria," the Ambassador said, outlining a forthcoming UNICEF/UNHCR joint appeal for about $130 million towards that cause.

Within Iraq, the situation is even more dire -- and worst of all for the Palestinian Iraqis rejected by Syria. At Al-Walid camp, Johnstone described 150-degree temperatures within the UN-provided tents. UNHCR can't even get to Al-Walid to provide services or supplies without incurring heavy fire from insurgents, so most of the time the roughly 1,300 people there -- with 20-30 more families arriving daily -- go without basic needs. And that is why children, such as the little girl pictured above, are expected to die before the year is out.

Ambassador Johnstone [EPIC photo: Emily Stivers 7/25/07Ambassador Johnstone's appeal was emotional. "I speak to you mainly as an American," he said. "This war is a product in large part of our intervention in Iraq, and we have a special responsibility to the consequences of this war. We desperately need to help these people."

EPIC agrees. To find out how you can help, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very emotional but still not making the front page or the headlines on the internet. That's what you really need. Good luck in your efforts!

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