MESA Chairman Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-NY), who called the hearing, opened by looking back at the administration’s inaction in assisting Iraqis who helped the U.S. "I can't remember President Bush speaking about this refugee crisis or the need for the United States to respond aggressively to it except in passing," Ackerman pointed out.
Indeed, EPIC has long criticized the President for his silence on this issue. Although Congress has made some progress in providing $150 million in FY07 supplemental funding, 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and expanding eligibility for resettlement programs, this isn't even a dent in a crisis costing billions and involving millions. The administration's failure to so much as acknowledge the problem in public discourse is reprehensible.
The subcommittee's Ranking Member, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), called for Iraqi refugees to return to their country and for the U.S. government to provide assistance only for return transportation. However, as EPIC has chronicled, conditions in Iraq are not currently safe enough for returns to be encouraged.
Meanwhile, IOHRO Chairman Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) respectfully called Rohrabacher mistaken, and emphasized that the U.S. “owns” this problem. Delahunt called for the US to address the crisis to improve our image in the Middle East, prevent the refugee population for becoming a “breeding ground for terrorists” and to respond robustly to UN humanitarian appeals. From the Washington Post:
Rep. Delahunt said the Bush administration and Congress have "a moral responsibility" to provide $500 million next year for food and financial support for the refugees because "we cannot deny that the proximate cause of this human tragedy is the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath."“We’ve helped to create a mess,” Ackerman said. “At best we should help clean up our mess; we owe it to these people if nothing else.” To take action and encourage YOUR members of Congress to continue this important discussion and do more for Iraqis in need, please check out our Iraq Forum and Advocacy Days in April.
He said the United States cannot afford to ignore the refugee situation, as it did in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviet Union, because "these vast numbers of refugees will produce the terrorists of the future unless they are treated in a way that is respectful and dignified and humanitarian."
Delahunt criticized the State Department for not pushing the Baghdad government to contribute more to neighboring countries, where 2.5 million Iraqi refugees have fled. He said it is "embarrassing" that Washington could not persuade the government of Nouri al-Maliki to offer more than $25 million to support its own citizens in Syria and Jordan. Ten months later, some of the money has not been delivered, he said.