WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) convened a hearing today on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who continue to languish in Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) partner State, Jordan, and in Syria and other countries in the region. The hearing also focused attention on the situation of our Iraqi allies, particularly those who have risked their lives to work for the United States in Iraq and who are now considered “collaborators” or “traitors” and are marked for assassination by terrorist groups.
Senator Cardin stated that, “Our Iraqi allies, those who have risked their lives to work for our government in Iraq, including alongside our military as interpreters, face an uncertain and threatening future as our forces redeploy. At a time when our country’s attention has turned to the conflict in Afghanistan, we must not forget Iraqis who continue to suffer as refugees and those in Iraq who are threatened for helping us.”
Cardin also pressed Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Eric Schwartz, on U.S. Government plans for ramping up the issuance of Special Immigrant Visas, and contingency plans for Iraqi allies who may be vulnerable as the U.S. redeploys troops.
Co-Chairman Hastings expressed his dismay that, “under the Status of Forces Agreement signed in November 2008, there is not one mention of Iraqis who have worked with the United States, which I find to be most unsettling.” In May 2010, Hastings successfully offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 that addresses the plight of Iraqis who have worked for the United States in Iraq and whose lives have been placed in grave danger for their service. The Hastings Amendment was cited by witnesses as a critical piece of legislation to help the U.S. meet its moral obligation to Iraqi refugees and allies.
Hastings is also the sponsor of H.R. 578, the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act of 2009, a bill that addresses this crisis and the potential security break-down resulting from the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries and the growing internally displaced population in Iraq.
Ranking Commissioner Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) raised the plight of religious minorities stating, “The cycle of vicious threats and attacks must end and the perpetrators of the violence must be brought to justice before the religious minorities are permanently driven from their homes.” According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, violence against religious minorities remained the same in 2009 and 2010, despite overall declines in Iraq’s violence levels.
In addition to Assistant Secretary Schwartz, the Commissioners heard testimony from Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone, President, Refugees International, ad interim; Mr. Kirk Johnson, Founder and Executive Director, The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies; and Michael A. Newton, Esq., Professor of the Practice of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School, and former Brigade Judge Advocate (U.S. Army Special Forces).
For more information visit www.csce.gov.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.