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Hastings Concerned Over Iraqi Refugee Crisis

WASHINGTON – Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, sent the following letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expressing grave concern over the massive displacement of Iraqis and the impending humanitarian crisis rapidly ensuing in the region. In particular, the letter highlights the need for the United States to address this devastating situation with strong financial support, either through bilateral assistance or funding for international organizations that are working directly with the refugee and internally displaced populations. In addition, the letter requests that Secretary Rice provide Congress with updates on the progress made to date by the Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force and other divisions of the U.S. Department of State.

Currently, Iraqis are the third-largest displaced population in the world and the fastest-growing refugee population globally. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are some 2.2 million Iraqis displaced internally and at least another 2.5 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria. (Please find below a copy of the letter)

August 20, 2007

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice:

As Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, I write with grave concern regarding the massive displacement of Iraqis and the impending humanitarian crisis rapidly ensuing in the region. I have traveled extensively to the region, including a visit to Jordan in May of this year where I learned first hand of the plight of the refugees and their impact on the society and government of Jordan, and I believe the United States has a moral obligation to spearhead efforts to assist the growing Iraqi refugee populations.

As you know, Madam Secretary, continuing sectarian violence in Iraq has forced a mass migration of Iraqis from their homes. Iraqis are now the third-largest displaced population in the world and the fastest-growing refugee population globally. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are some 2.2 million Iraqis displaced internally and at least another 2.5 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria.

The flood of Iraqi refugees has created a huge burden on the resources of primarily the Jordanian and Syrian governments, while Lebanon, Egypt and other neighboring countries are impacted as well. Jordan currently hosts an estimated Iraqi refugee population of 750,000. This influx is alarming in a country of just 6 million people, especially considering the increasing presence of Islamic militants in Jordan over the last decade. While Jordanian leaders and many local and international non-governmental groups are taking significant steps to respond to the refugees’ basic needs, education, health care and even water access remain limited. As you know, in January, Jordan closed its borders to Iraqis because it cannot absorb more people into this resource-poor kingdom. Despite this, Jordan has not seen significantly increased economic assistance from its top ally – the United States – to fund its schools, hospitals, and public infrastructure.

Syria, as well, is straining under the pressure of hosting 2.5 million Iraqi refugees, as it is the only country which has kept its border open. According to the Syrian government, Syria spends more than $830,000,000 per year for registered Iraqi students to attend school, and receive medical treatment and food. In addition, according to the government, Syria spends approximately $1.8 billion per year to subsidize food, heating oil, gasoline, electrical power and water for the Iraqi refugees. As a result of soaring rent costs, overcrowded schools, rising crime, health problems, and concerns about the vulnerability of young, unemployed Iraqis to extremist influences, Syria is now struggling to absorb these refugees.

The security situation in Jordan, Syria, and other host countries is rapidly deteriorating. Tension is rising among host communities, oversaturated with displaced populations, who, themselves, lack access to basic services, and Iraqi refugees angered by their deteriorating life circumstances. The destabilizing nature of large refugee flows, the need to enroll children in school so they won’t remain idle, and the skewing of sectarian balances in host countries may very well lead to a breakdown of law and order in the host countries.

In a July 26, 2007 meeting of several of the host countries’ leaders to address the Iraqi refugee crisis, Jordanian delegates estimated they would need more than $1 billion in emergency assistance and Syria estimated they would need more than $250 million in similar assistance to adequately ensure an effective degree of security within their respective countries and to safeguard their borders. If the United States does not make a serious commitment to help the Iraqi refugee populations in these countries soon, terrorist groups may fill the void in these areas of need.

The United States has a responsibility to provide leadership in addressing this expanding humanitarian crisis. I appreciate that our government has already taken several measures to address this dire situation, including establishing the Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force in February of this year. I am, nevertheless, concerned that we are not doing enough.

A larger part of the United States’ efforts to address the devastating refugee situation must derive from strong financial support, either through bilateral assistance or funding for international organizations that are working directly with the refugee and internally displaced populations. Jordan clearly needs additional bilateral aid to deal with the growing humanitarian and security concerns resulting from the massive influx of Iraqi refugees. I respectfully request that a significant amount of any future monies appropriated to Jordan, other unrestricted host countries, and legitimate international organizations working in the region is specifically designated for refugee assistance.

I would also appreciate receiving from you an update on the progress made to date by the Task Force and other divisions of the State Department in addressing the Iraq refugee crisis. Clearly, the prolonged massive displacement of Iraqi citizens has the potential to lead to a broader regional crisis with major security implications.

I urge your increased attention to the Iraq refugee and IDP crisis and look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.
Chairman

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