At a conference in Amman on July 26, government officials from Jordan and Syria described the humanitarian crisis and massive economic burden posed by the 2 million refugees, displaced by violence in Iraq, who have sought safety in neighboring countries. Of particular interest were statements made by Jordan's Interior Ministry Secretary-General, Mukheimar Abu-Jamous.
According to the Associated Press, "the influx of 750,000 Iraqis is costing Jordan $1 billion a year in basic services, Abu-Jamous told the gathering in the Jordanian capital." This statement represents a critical admission on the part of the Jordanian government, which had previously downplayed the refugee problem due to questions of its national identity (Palestinians now make up more than half of the Jordanian population).
Jordan also announced it would give all Iraqi children in the country access to Jordanian schools. Currently, the government estimates that 19,000 Iraqi girls and boys are in school, while at least 50,000 do not attend.
"We are very grateful to Jordan for this humanitarian decision," said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations. "These host countries have borne an enormous burden caring for millions of Iraqis. The sheer number of uprooted Iraqis has outstripped the capacity of their infrastructure to cope, particularly in the area of education. So we are now asking for international support specifically aimed at assisting these generous host governments in getting Iraqi children back into school."
But while Jordan is beginning to acknowledge and provide assistance to Iraqi refugees, the U.S. record remains dismal. Our government provided $700 million in emergency aid in 2003 to help the Government of Jordan offset revenue shortfalls and new expenditures resulting from the conflict in Iraq, but has since abandoned emergency aid payments despite the worsening refugee situation. Milad Atiya, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan and head of his country's delegation to the conference, said the international community "must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility."
However, there remains hope. This week, SEVEN new cosponsors signed on to The Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act (H.R. 2265), legislation which would would provide support for Iraq, NGOs and neighboring countries including Jordan and Syria to handle the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and protection situation for 4 million displaced Iraqis. It also provides special visas for the most at-risk refugees -- particularly those in danger for working closely with American soldiers and NGOs in Iraq.
To find out how YOU can help us tell the U.S. government to start living up to its responsibilities and assisting Iraqi refugees, click here.