Bush has neglected visiting the Middle East, arguably the most strategically important part of the world, for seven years. But today, he is finally there, and finally encouraging efforts towards peace and prosperity in the region. Now, EPIC joins Refugees International and other organizations in calling on the President to end his silence on Iraq's refugee crisis, as well.
Over 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, with nearly 2.5 million Iraqi civilians fleeing to neighboring countries and over 2 million displaced internally within Iraq. Refugees are overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, raising concerns about further destabilization of the region. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries, and are increasingly desperate. They face challenges in obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries’ health and education systems. Women and children are especially vulnerable, and a sense of frustration, despair and abandonment permeates communities of displaced Iraqis throughout the region.
At a time when Bush has expressed optimism about the prospect of regional dialogue, his administration must also engage proactively on Iraqi displacement and its impacts. The President's Middle East visit includes meetings with Arab leaders about developments in Iraq, as well as regional security and relations between the United States and these close allies. It is imperative that Bush use this visit to establish a robust international response to the humanitarian needs of displaced Iraqis.
President Bush must encourage the international community to contribute desperately needed financial and political support to the host countries to ensure that basic services are available for Iraqi refugees. The U.S. must also do more for refugees, directly. The current resettlement goal of 12,000 is too low. In order to begin living up to our responsibilities, we must commit to resettling at least 96,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States for FY 2008.
Unfortunately, the administration is failing to even meet its current goal. According to the Associated Press, “The steady decline — from 450 in October to 362 in November and 245 in December — means the administration will have to allow in 10,943 Iraqis over the next nine months, or roughly 1,215 per month, to meet the target it has set for itself.” Meanwhile, the administration is also failing to martial sufficient funding and resources to assist Iraq, Jordan, and other countries struggling to meet the needs of 4.5 million displaced Iraqis.
As long as Bush remains silent about the crisis, his administration and the international community will continue to lack the resolve to respond to its urgency and magnitude. The value of a Presidential commitment to resolving this crisis cannot be overstated.