“On my recent trip to Iraq, it was completely clear that the country and the region are in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of people -– the UN is estimating over a million –- do not even have access to clean water, food, or shelter, let alone adequate health services or educational opportunities,” said Heather Hanson, Director of Public Relations at Mercy Corps. “U.S. officials need to recognize that real stability in Iraq and the region depends upon our capacity to work together with the international community and Iraqi partners to support programs that provide the required emergency life-saving assistance, lay the groundwork for long-term reconciliation and development, and prevent further displacement.”
Bob Carey, Vice President of Resettlement Programs at the International Rescue Committee and Chair of Refugee Council USA, pointed out that “this is one of the fastest growing humanitarian crises in the world, yet the U.S. response has been largely slow, meager and halfhearted. Displaced Iraqis are growing more traumatized, sick and destitute every day, yet they find unimaginable the prospect of returning home safely any time soon. The scale of the emergency requires a significant global response, but the U.S. has a special responsibility to lead the way in aid and resettlement.”
"The people of Iraq and the United States are interconnected by the events over the past five years, and a growing number of Americans understand the need and obligation to help displaced Iraqis," said Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International. "The U.S. should be the global leader in resettling the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, but we are lagging behind other countries. Most disturbing, we are failing to help many Iraqis who risked their lives to support U.S. forces and help with American reconstruction plans."
The conference featured consensus that:
• Vulnerable Iraqis who are in Iraq or who have fled to neighboring countries are in immediate and urgent need of the most basic humanitarian assistance.“This forum is only the beginning," said conference organizer Erik Gustafson, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC). “After last week’s Petraeus-Crocker hearings, Americans have more questions about the deepening humanitarian crisis facing millions of Iraqis: What is the U.S. doing about it? What should the U.S. be doing about it? If stability in Iraq is so important, why are humanitarian needs still going unmet for many Iraqi families, and why are so many vulnerable Iraqis still largely unprotected?"
• The United States should strengthen support to non-governmental organizations assisting vulnerable Iraqis and should fund at least 50 percent of amounts requested in appeals from international organizations providing humanitarian support to Iraqis.
• Many displaced Iraqis will never be able to return home safely. The United States should expedite the resettlement of vulnerable Iraqis and vastly increase the number admitted.
• The United States should significantly increase humanitarian assistance to countries hosting Iraqi refugees to ease the strain on their national systems, as well as press Iraq and other countries to also respond generously to meet these needs.
"The success of today's Iraq Action Days forum demonstrates that Americans and Iraqis alike are united in wanting to see stronger leadership and cooperation to address the humanitarian consequences of ongoing violence in Iraq," Gustafson concluded.
Photo caption (from left to right): RABIH TORBAY, Vice President of International Operations, International Medical Corps; SAMUEL M. WITTEN, Acting Asst. Sec. of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; KATHLEEN NEWLAND, Director and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute; and KEN BACON, President of Refugees International, discuss the U.S. and International Response to the Crisis at the Iraq Policy Forum (George Washington University, April 14, 2008).
Participating organizations: InterAction, Refugee Council USA, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), International Rescue Committee, 3D Security Initiative, Amnesty International USA, Chaldean Federation of America, Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America, Church World Service, Center for Victims of Torture, The Episcopal Church, Human Rights First, International Medical Corps, Mandaean Associations Union, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mercy Corps, NETWORK: a national Catholic Social Justice Lobby, North American Dominican Justice and Peace Promoters, Open Society Policy Center, Oxfam America, Refugees International, Veterans for Common Sense, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and World Relief.