Friday, May 30, 2008

Life of a Refugee:

Here is the second entry by an Iraqi refugee living in Jordan:

Iraqis in Jordan face all kinds of difficulties, from aggressive attitudes of Jordanians to unemployment, to an unstable and illegal existence.

The uncertain future for most Iraqis could be seen in their eyes. The impact of it is so severe that they are ready to consider going back to danger with no regret rather than staying and suffering from all the difficulties in Jordan. For me, Iraqi refugees in Jordan need serious attention and assistance programs that could at least provide them with the minimum support and care they need. Here is why Iraqi refugees need the support of the international community.

In my personal experience, difficulties started from entering Jordan until one arrives to the decision of going back and facing death instead of staying and struggling without even knowing the reason why? At some point, the harsh conditions force you to self-pose a series of questions: why do Iraqis get this kind of treatment? Do they deserve it? Why? For Jordanians, Iraqis are traitors who deal with the Americans and they are followers of Iran. Still, why?

One can only see all those accusations popping up in the head of any Jordanian once they recognize the Iraqi accent. It made me feel guilty, it made me want to defend myself and forget all about me being the real victim of all that happened. During my stay in Jordan, I met a lot of Iraqis, acquaintances, friends in addition to lots of relatives. We all shared the feeling of isolation, abandonment and of hopelessness. Doors are never open to us.

For example, it is not easy to get medical treatment when one is sick. Iraqis have limited or no access to even the most basic health care. The cost of health care is beyond the reach of most refugees. There were only two clinics providing free or subsidized health care to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. The barriers to affordable health care have dire implications for Iraqis. They are not getting the treatment they need for chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Women and girls are not receiving critical reproductive health attention. The longer this endures, the greater the number of lives at risk.

Schools are overcrowded and it is not easy to deal with the system. But the main problem remains to be finding employment.

Living in Jordan is not easy, you must have a fairly high income to keep a decent standard of living. At this point, one comes to think about finding a job that will provide. Even if you found a job, salaries in Amman or other cities are not enough to cover all expenses but it’s better than nothing.

Still, if you are an Iraqi looking for a job, you might as well dream of going to the moon instead. A hopeless quest, you will end up spending all that you have on transportation to go to interviews ,that is, if you had even heard from the places which you applied to. Jordanians will prefer to hire a fellow citizen than going through lots of problems with the government because of employing Iraqis. Besides, the Jordanian government has restrictions over hiring non-citizens. In order to get employment, you have to be a legal resident and issued a special work permit. If you don’t have a legal residency status; you will not be issued a work permit and as a result you will not find a job. Simply, the suffering goes on.

While those of us who fled from Iraq might be safer than those who didn't, we still face many hardships.

The Small Swedish Town

Last April,The Washington Post had a story about Södertälje, the small Swedish town that has received more refugees than the US and Canada combined since 2003. The town is in the news again, in the Arab media this time. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arab newspaper, featured the town’s struggle to cope with the big number of Iraqi refugees resettled there. Following is an informal EPIC-translated excerpt of that report:

The story of Iraqi refugees and their suffering is not new; it is a continuous tragedy inside and outside Iraq. A small Swedish town gained international fame because of the tragedy.

Södertälje’s mayor, Anders Lago, addressed Congress last April, with criticism for the way it is dealing with the Iraqi refugee crisis. Södertälje, a town of 83,000, has received nearly 7000 Iraqi refugees since 2003, and Sweden in general has received 40,000 while the number of Iraqi refugees resettled in the US does not exceed six thousand. Lago renewed his appeal to the world to help Iraqi refugees. His appeal comes as the international community is congregated in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, for an economic conference on Iraq. Lago took advantage of the presence of more than 350 journalists covering the conference and held a press conference in Södertälje, 18 miles southwest of Stockholm and home to 5% of the total number of Iraqi refugees in Europe. But Lago was not the only speaker about Iraqi refugees (10% of the town’s residents); he also had some of the refugees as participants to speak about their harsh conditions.

Lago insisted in his interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that “the time has come to say no, enough, we don’t want more refugees”. Swedish refugee law does not prevent refugees from resettling in a certain area and Lago explained that he is in talks with the Swedish government to amend that law so that refugees will resettle in different areas instead of being all resettled in the same place. At the moment, Malmo, Södertälje, Stockholm and Gothenburg are the cities where most Iraqi refugees are resettled. He also added that “Sweden is in need of refugees since it is a big country with low rates of population growth. There is no problem preventing Sweden from resettling 30,000 refugees; the issue is: the majority of them are resettling in one area”. Between the years 2006-2007, Södertälje has received nearly a 100 refugees a month from Iraq and the number is not expected to decrease. That is given the fact that resettled Iraqi refugees are already applying for family reunions which means that each refugee will bring at least one family member from Iraq.

Lago also said “last year we received a number of Iraqi refugees bigger than the number received by both the US and Canada. But for this year we hope to have better balance between Södertälje and the US”. He also drew attention to the problems of resettling a huge number of refugees in Södertälje dividing them into three main parts, “first part is schools that are having difficulties absorbing the number of new students. Södertälje already has 8000 students, 500 of them need special classes to help them with the language”. He added “the second part is housing explaining that the Municipality provided refugees in need of money with homes but 2000 of them do not have housing so they are obliged to live with relatives.” The third is “employment difficulties” adding “we cannot as, a small town, create 1000 jobs a year. It is impossible” but he continued: “40% of Iraqis here are college-educated and have important experience so we have to help them by providing appropriate jobs instead of letting them be taxi drivers”. Lago also explained that “the conference is very important because it represents a new situation for Iraqis displaced inside or outside the country; he added that “[I] will ask for extra protection for Christians in addition to demanding a shared international responsibility towards Iraqi refugees”, concluding “the US started the war and a small town like Södertälje is taking the huge burden of refugees”.

Raji Al-Yousif, a refugee from Mosul with a degree in engineering, appealed to the Swedish government to help Iraqi refugees saying “there is no one to protect us”. Christian groups criticized the Iraqi government on the conference eve, asking them to protect Christian minority in Iraq which is targeted like other Iraqi ethnic groups. Protests started in the past few days in Stockholm and other Swedish cities while several Iraqi societies were preparing to meet Iraqi PM tomorrow in a series of meetings organized by the Iraqi community in Sweden.

Some of the refugees said “we demand from the Swedish government to adapt a courageous position as they did with Bosnia and Herzegovina and to grant Iraqi refugees applications”. There are fears of turning back refugees and send them back to Iraq especially the ones whose applications were denied in the past few months. The Swedish government signed a memorandum of understanding with Iraq last January; the memorandum does not consider Iraq a conflict zone which means “asylum seekers have to prove that they are under personal threat as opposed to fleeing the general violence”. This policy is resulting in “tens of denied applications a day and most of the people denied have lost everything in their country”, said some of the refugees.

Concerns were obvious for Iraqi refugees regarding the denial rate of their applications and fear of being sent back to Iraq. Dr. Sundus, an Iraqi refugee could not hold her tears when talking about her future “I feel pain when I talk about my future, what else one could feel when they lose country, home, job and all they had achieved?” Dr. Sundus was a professor at Baghdad University for 12 years before applying for asylum in Sweden after arriving with an expensive forged passport. She added “I came to a safe place to get a new life and settle down” but she was shocked when she arrived last December to hear that denied applications were more than the granted, she sighed saying “I don’t know about the future everything is dark, vague and news about sending refugees back scares me”.

Town’s officials stressed that there is no resentment among Södertälje’s natives towards the new arrivals; noting that forty percent of Södertälje’s population is not born in Sweden. The media attention on the small town seems to be taken its toll, though. A number of residents refused to answer Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s questions about their opinions while students at a school welcomed journalists by throwing eggs at them. The school which is located in a poor neighborhood of Södertälje has 200 students, 15% of them attend special language classes in Swedish language for 2 years before merging into other classes. Ema Fagerstrand, an official in charge of municipal policy explained “students are tired of the media circus around them”. And as a result of the huge media attention on Södertälje, the municipality decided to appoint a special communications director.

Dr. Sundus, the university professor, said she will ask the Iraqi official delegation “where is the money that was spent on reconstructing Iraq and how do you say Iraq is reconstructed now? How many of your families live with you in Iraq now and how do you expect us to live there?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


“If I had found a job here [in the US], a good job when I came, I would, probably….. I would not go back [to Iraq]”. These are the words of Jack (name changed), an Iraqi interpreter who had worked with the US military in Iraq from May 2004 until September 2007.

Like many Iraqi interpreters, Jack became a target of death threats because of his work with the US military; and did not have an option but to flee Iraq after surviving an assassination attempt. The journey to safety was not a smooth one, though. After waiting for more than two years for a US visa, Jack arrived in the US with hopes of being a contributor to his adopted country. After trying, Jack could not find a job that matches his qualifications. He again had no option and had to go back to the all familiar (yet unwanted) dangerous environment.

Read entire story.

The story seems to be common with US-resettled Iraqis.

We bring this up today with a glimpse of a hopeful beginning. There is, gladly, a realization in Congress that Iraqis resettled in the US are talented individuals; ready to be utilized for the benefit of this nation. To that end, last week, Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) sponsored an amendment that calls on the Secretaries of both the Defense and State departments to establish and operate a program that will offer employment for US-resettled Iraqis within the federal agencies. EPIC was one of several organizations that endorsed the amendment and we are pleased to report that the amendment passed. Representative Israel’s amendment is to be applauded and we are proud to have endorsed it. Such amendments are necessary to keep Jack and people with similar backgrounds out of danger. Two of those people have written statements in support of the amendment that are worth-sharing.

A statement from “Harry” who worked with the U.S. Army in Civil Affairs Units and other units in Iraq for four years, and relocated with the help of a humanitarian friend to the US in 2007:

“My family and I have come to this wonderful welcoming community with many supportive and helpful people, but few jobs. We have found it terribly difficult to find work in the United States. I have only managed to find a very part-time job grading papers and giving lectures in Arabic classes, but it only pays $1,500 per semester. We love it here and would like to stay here. My experiences, I think, are valuable. My fellow translators and I have so much to contribute to the United States, working for local, state, or federal agencies within this country. I hope you will pass this bill to help enable us to find viable work and make a great contribution to our new adopted country, which we love. Thank you.”

A Statement from “Andy” who worked with the U.S. Army in several units in Iraq for almost four years, and now lives in the US:

“We are so glad to be in the United States, out of danger. My wife and little daughter love it here. The biggest problem we have is employment for me. I have only been able to find part-time work that pays $10,000 a year, and social services have been very difficult to obtain. We thought that we would be entitled to some governmental assistance, but our American friends here have been having to fight on our behalf to get any services. My abilities in Arabic-English translation and vice versa, and my abilities and eagerness to be a cultural ambassador, would serve the United States well. We could work locally, or at the state or national level to give language and cultural instruction or to be translators and interpreters. I hope that you will make it easier for us to support our families and at the same time contribute as residents of this great country. Thank you for your consideration.”

Given the positive impact the program will make, we urge both the State and Defense departments to quickly establish and start it.

Note: names of interpreters have been changed to protect their identities.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Undesired Road to Becoming a Refugee

What drove me, and thousands of other Iraqis to leave our country, our homes and our lives was the growing fear of being kidnapped or killed by various armed groups. Suicide bombings and militia rampages had become routine, and the reliance by U.S. forces on air power too often resulted in a stray rocket killing innocent civilians. For you, my dear reader, and the international community at large, this “hectic and unstable security situation” is well known.

Overlooked in every newspaper headline and television newscast is the day-to-day reality for ordinary Iraqi families. How does one survive in an environment of daily conflict? How does one keep their children safe? What happens when the “security situation” in Iraq’s most cosmopolitan city, Baghdad, becomes too hectic and unstable? Imagine having to make the decision to leave everything behind, everything, without turning back and flying to nearest available country?

My family and I left Iraq with a certain amount of regret but with a lot of hope. Jordan was our destination because we had a lot of relatives and acquaintance who had left before us.

To my surprise, Jordan wasn’t as good as I hoped or expected it would. Problems began at the entry borders with questions of Why? With whom? For how long? We were asked as if we were coming for a vacation under normal circumstances. It was a shock to me as an Iraqi going to a close Arab country. Under the glare of the Jordanian authorities, I remember thinking ‘if anyone in the world should be aware and care about what’s happening in Iraq, it should be our Jordanian brothers and sisters.’ But to my surprise, they showed no compassion for our circumstances, only hypocrisy.

The Jordanian authorities demanded legal reasons for our entrance and stay in Jordan. Fleeing mortal dangers apparently was not a good enough reason. In the end, all we could get them to approve was one week. After that we would have to submit to the law of daily charged payments. The daily charge of illegal stay in Jordan is 1.5 Jordanian dinars which is the equivalent of more than $2 dollars. It is charged for all departing foreign visitors who have overstayed their visas, if not paid, a stamp on the passport will prevent the concerned visitor from entering Jordan in the future.

This wasn’t all, in order to get legitimate status as refugees, a status that is still hard for me to accept, we had to acquire documentation by the UNHCR. Without protected legal status as refugees, my family and I were at risk of deportation and further displacement.

We had to wait in a long line for nearly 4 hours, some people waited longer, to schedule a date for an interview with a UNHCR officer. The purpose of the interview is to determine whether or not we are truly refugees. The earliest available date was a month later.

On the day of the interview, there were 50 or more people, women and children standing in a line outside the UNHCR office in Amman, Jordan. Since it was still January, it was very windy and cold. Two hours later, they finally opened their doors and allowed us to enter the building. For another 5 hours, we waited in the crowded entranceway without any heat of any kind. The only pieces of furniture were the chairs that we sat on during our long hours of waiting.

When our turn came, as all the other families, a UNHCR staffer called our number and directed us to the room where our interview was to take place. A Jordanian lady was seated behind a computer. She asked us a few questions about how, when and why we left our home in Iraq. Then she instructed us to return to the waiting area until they call our number again.

Another 2-3 hours of waiting. Finally our turn was up again. They took individual photos of me and each member of my family. One hour later, we had the documents that we prayed would protect us.

All this trouble for a piece of paper that changes nothing about our status or our circumstances, or the status and circumstances of hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis who are obligated to undergo the same exhausting process.

In my next entry, I’ll write about what’s its like for Iraqi families living in Jordan.

The writer is an Iraqi refugee living in Jordan.

Photo caption: Thousands of Iraqi refugees gather outside the offices of a UN refugee agency in Damascus, Syria's capital, in February to register their names for obtaining refugee status.
(Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press)

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Humanitarian Measure in Numbers:


Like promised, here are more details on the measure approved yesterday. The following is a description of the programs related to addressing the Iraqi displacement crisis and the funds approved by the Congress for those programs’ accounts:

Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA):
• The Department of State’s Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account helps the United States meet its domestic and international obligations to protect and assist refugees and host communities. The two major line-items within MRA are overseas refugee assistance and U.S. refugee admissions. MRA funds for overseas assistance are used to support UN agencies, the ICRC, and international NGOs to provide protection and direct assistance to refugees. The Refugee Admissions portion of MRA provides funding to identify, admit, and provide initial reception and placement services for refugees admitted to the United States. Resettlement serves as a durable solution for individual refugees and demonstrates responsibility-sharing to encourage countries of “first asylum” to keep their doors open to refugees in need of protection. For fiscal years 2008 and 2009, Congress approved $680,500,000.

International Disaster Assistance Account (IDA):
• IDA helps address the needs of a wide range of civilians displaced or otherwise affected by conflict or other disasters. Congress should ensure funding for this program to address urgent humanitarian needs inside Iraq. The funding will allow for increased support to non-governmental organizations assisting vulnerable Iraqis and for a robust U.S. response to the needs identified in the U.N. Consolidated Appeal for Iraq. For fiscal years 2008 and 2009, Congress approved $665,000,000.

Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA):
• ERMA is an account that the President may draw on at any time to meet “unexpected urgent refugee needs”. ERMA funds are used to respond to breaks in the food pipeline, unanticipated new emergencies or unforeseen escalations in existing crises. For fiscal year 2008, Congress approved $36,608,000.

Iraq Community Action Program (CAP):
• CAP is a USAID program which is implemented by an alliance of U.S. based NGOs and is funded through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) account. This program works with Iraqi communities to identify their own needs and implement sustainable rehabilitation projects by promoting citizen-government engagement and local economic development. For fiscal year 2008, Congress approved $75,000,000.

Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund:
• The fund provides continued assistance to Iraqi civilians who suffer losses as a result of the military operations. For fiscal year 2008, Congress approved $5,000,000.

Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund and the Community Action Program (CAP) were allocated $30,000,000 in unspecified initial funding for fiscal year 2009. Bringing the total funding of both programs to $110,000,000 for fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

Bilateral Assistance to help Iraqi refugees in Jordan:
• Through the Economic Support Fund (ESF), Congress approved $150,000,000 for Jordan during fiscal year 2008. This amount is to be used to meet the needs of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

You called for these accounts to be funded during your advocacy days and through your phone calls. We are pleased to see that your lawmakers listened to you and that our combined efforts have made an impact.

It is indeed an important step, but we still need to keep the vulnerable Iraqis along with their families in mind and we should help them in every way possible. Please take a minute to sign our humanitarian pledge (join the thousand people who have already signed) and in this holiday weekend, we invite your generous giving spirit to support EPIC’s work.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Your advocacy contributes to victory; Congress approves humanitarian measure

Thanks to your phone calls and energetic advocacy work during Iraq Action Days, the House of Representatives voted on May 15th and the Senate voted today to approve almost $1.6 billion that will address the humanitarian crisis vulnerable and displaced Iraqis endure. The measure is part of the emergency spending bill for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. Now, the bill goes back to the House for final approval as soon as tomorrow and the debate over it might extend after Memorial Day recess.

This is clearly a victory for the vulnerable Iraqis and their families and is a testament to what could be accomplished if hands and efforts are combined to achieve a common goal. EPIC is pleased that the goal in this case is assisting the vulnerable Iraqi refugees. More details to come on the bill tomorrow and we will certainly keep you updated on the final outcome.

In the meantime, please take a minute to sign our humanitarian pledge and support our efforts to advocate for vulnerable Iraqis. Your support is making a difference, so keep up the good work.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Update: Emergency Spending Bill in da House

As we informed you yesterday, the emergency spending bill is being debated on the floor of the house as this entry is being written. Many of you have already taken action and contacted their elected representatives urging them to support the bill. We want to express our gratitude to those peacebuilders whose support and dedication are significant parts of our efforts to help vulnerable Iraqi refugees.

In addition to the bill being debated right now, we also want to report that the deadline for the bill might extend until June 15 (Latest: Members of the House voted on the bill on Thursday, May 15). This development provides extra time to ensure that your voices as concerned constituents are loudly and clearly heard by members of the house.

We urgently need you to call your Representative RIGHT NOW via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Tell them:
  • Time is running out for many of Iraq's most vulnerable civilians and refugees. Millions of Iraqis across the region are finding themselves in desperate need of basic humanitarian assistance, including food, health care and education.
  • One of the amendments to the emergency spending bill under consideration would provide an additional $1 billion in lifesaving humanitarian assistance for FY 2008 and FY 2009 to assist Iraqis and other victims of conflict ($675 million for refugees and $400 million for internally displaced persons and other vulnerable civilians). It would provide another $250 million in bilateral assistance to Jordan to help Iraqi refugees and alleviate the strain on national systems.
  • The emergency spending bill is the fastest and only available means to address unmet humanitarian needs in Iraq and the region for FY 2008.
  • The passage of the bill will demonstrate to the world that the U.S. is doing its part in helping the Iraqi refugees and as a result will improve the worldwide image of the United States.
We are very pleased with the responses we have received from you so if you have time, drop us a note about how it went or leave a comment on this blog.

Thank you for taking action on behalf of vulnerable Iraqis and their families.

Photo credit: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she thinks a compromise is likely. (Ken Cedeno - Bloomberg News)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ACT NOW: House Vote to Determine Fate of Millions in Need

As early as noon TOMORROW, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on an emergency spending bill for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, including an amendment that would provide over $1.3 billion in lifesaving humanitarian assistance for Iraqi refugees and vulnerable civilians in Iraq, as well as other global humanitarian concerns.

Without your help, this hard-fought humanitarian provision is likely to get stripped out of the emergency spending package! Such an outcome would be catastrophic for millions of war-affected Iraqis who are facing a deepening humanitarian crisis.

We urgently need you to call your Representative RIGHT NOW via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Tell them:
  • Time is running out for many of Iraq's most vulnerable civilians and refugees. Millions of Iraqis across the region are finding themselves in desperate need of basic humanitarian assistance, including food, health care and education.
  • We not only have a moral obligation to help, it is a matter of international security. Effective humanitarian assistance to Iraqis in the region will save lives, create stability, and improve America's standing in the world.
  • One of the amendments to the emergency spending bill under consideration would provide an additional $1 billion in lifesaving humanitarian assistance for FY 2008 and FY 2009 to assist Iraqis and other victims of conflict ($675 million for refugees and $400 million for internally displaced persons and other vulnerable civilians). It would provide another $250 million in bilateral assistance to Jordan to help Iraqi refugees and alleviate the strain on national systems.
  • The emergency spending bill is the fastest and only available means to address unmet humanitarian needs in Iraq and the region for FY 2008.
During Iraq Action Days, concerned citizens like you met with Members of Congress and urged them to strengthen emergency humanitarian funding and bilateral assistance for the current fiscal year. It is time to make our case again.

Please take a minute RIGHT NOW to call your elected Representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Urge him/her to work with colleagues to prevent humanitarian funding for vulnerable Iraqis from being stripped out of the FY08 emergency spending bill.

If you have time, drop us a note about how it went or leave a comment on this blog. Thank you for taking action on behalf of vulnerable Iraqis and their families.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Headlines 5/9/08

A collection of articles that shed light on the multiple dimensions of the Iraqi Displacement Crisis:

Iraqi legislators ask Iraqi Government to support refugees
EPIC is encouraged to see the Iraqi Government beginning to realize its obligation to help its own citizens. It is certainly a small step in the right direction and we hope to witness an increasing role by the Government of Iraq. We will monitor the story and will keep you updated on the developments.

Jordan pledges to UN continued help to Iraqi refugees
While this is important and encouraging, we strongly urge the Jordanian government to continue its efforts and we urge the United Nation to take a more proactive role.

More funding needed to help Iraqi refugees, UN says
EPIC has constantly and strongly called for more international support and it is our hope that the international community will do its part to alleviate a tragic situation.

Finally, two stories describing the beginning of a journey from uncertainty to ambition and hope. Iraqis in Idaho and Iraqis in Virginia.

All these articles strongly demonstrate that more work still needs to be done and more resources should be allocated to help Iraqis starting new lives in the United States. They also show the complexity of a crisis that undoubtedly requires our collective effort to be altered.

Photo Caption: Alaa A. Amir, right, translates some paperwork for the Saeed family — left to right: Robert, Thaer, Vivian, Stewart, and Steve. The Amir and Saeed families live in the same apartment complex in Boise. By Troy Maben for USA TODAY.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

IRAQ ACTION DAYS: 3 Ways You Can Help

Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie addresses crowd of hundreds at National Iraq Forum."I have only praise. It was the best organized event I attended. I went home feeling well briefed, empowered and more effective." - Sister Ann Marie, OP, participant of Iraq Action Days

I am pleased to report back to you the resounding success of IRAQ ACTION DAYS in furthering our fight to help millions of Iraqis in need of humanitarian relief and protection.

From April 14th-16th we were joined by hundreds of concerned constituents from across the U.S. and leading experts just back from Iraq and the Middle East. We began with an all-day national Iraq Forum at George Washington University attended by more than 220 concerned citizens, NGO colleagues and government officials. Photos, video highlights and media coverage are now available at

IRAQ ACTION DAYS would not have been possible without the generosity and energy of EPIC supporters and readers like you. Thank you!

The forum was followed by two days of meetings on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to do far more to help Iraqi civilians who are displaced or otherwise affected by violence in Iraq. On Tuesday, April 15th and Wednesday, April 16th we were joined by 22 NGO colleagues and 57 constituents representing 15 states and 40 congressional districts from across the country. Our case was strengthened by the participation of Iraq War veterans, resettlement and aid workers, Dominican sisters from 12 different congregations, recently resettled Iraqi refugees, doctors, students and homemakers.

Right now we need YOU to help us build on the momentum of IRAQ ACTION DAYS. Here are 3 simple ways to join the fight to help millions of Iraqis in need of humanitarian relief and protection.
  • Call your Senators and Representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and urge them to strengthen humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees and vulnerable civilians left behind in Iraq, improve assistance to countries hosting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in the region, and ensure that the U.S. resettles a substantial number of Iraqi refugees. Because of the scale and urgency of the crisis, the upcoming supplemental is the next best opportunity to provide lifesaving assistance. For more information on what Congress can do, read our NGO letter (PDF), Backgrounder (PDF) and other resources posted in our Reading Room.
Together we can strengthen the U.S. and international response to Iraq's humanitarian crisis, and as we help Iraqis survive, rebuild their lives, and reclaim their country, we are planting the seeds of sustainable peace, development and self-determination for all Iraqis.

Photo caption: Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie addresses crowd of hundreds at National Forum to Respond to the Humanitarian Crisis facing Iraqis.

Smugglers' Paradise, Refugee Hell

To experts and historians, the Iraq Refugee Crisis is unprecedented. With well over 4 million Iraqis either internally displaced or forced to leave the country, the tales of horror and suffering are countless. As one Iraqi woman put it:

"If someone could describe what it is like to live in hell you would understand, than the world would understand what it is like to live in Baghdad. Every time somebody goes out you wonder if he or she will return. Every time a girl goes out you do not know if she will return or if she will be abducted, raped or murdered. It is like in hell."

For Iraqis, living in hell does not end when some of them seek refugee in neighboring countries. Many of them live in harsh conditions and faced by lack of legal status, work permits, and international support, they are heavily dependent on their own savings for financial support. In order to change this reality, Iraqis seek to relocate to other countries where they could enjoy better lives. One of the most popular destinations is Sweden. Getting to Sweden is not easy and once an Iraqi decides to get out of hell, hell will become paradise. Sadly, it is a paradise for smugglers not the Iraqi refugees. It is a paradise because it is a $300 million dollars industry for the smugglers.

EPIC came across a report that details the difficult journey of vulnerable and desperate Iraqi refugees from Syria to Sweden. The report was produced by the Kaliber radio show, an investigative journalism program on Swedish Radio. According to the report, the cost of smuggling one person is around $12000-15000 and despite this large amount of money, the refugees go through life-threatening experiences to reach their dream destination. Looking back at his experience, one refugee said "If I knew that the way would be so difficult, I would never have had taken this way. I might as well have got killed home in Iraq."

Click here to read entire report.

We find this report appalling and we invite you to join us in calling for increased support for the Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and inside Iraq as well. The need for supporting these refugees is fiercely urgent as discussed by prominent Iraq scholars and NGO representatives during the Iraq Action Days.

You could help end such horrible stories by calling your Congress members and urging them to provide more support for vulnerable Iraqis and by supporting EPIC’s work.

Together we can make the vulnerable be in paradise before they go through hell.

Photo Caption:
An elderly Iraqi refugee sleeps rough on the streets of Amman, Jordan. Even if Iraqis manage to flee the violence in their own country, they often face hardships in neighboring nations. Image Courtesy: © Dana Hazeen/IRIN
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