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Reps. Hastings and Dingell Call on Secretary Rice to Layout Long-Term Plan for 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, and Congressman John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent the following letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The letter outlines the Members’ concern over the lack of attention and resources that have been focused on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDP), and the failure of the United States to implement a long-term plan to address this humanitarian crisis in the region. 

In particular, the letter lays out specific questions to Secretary Rice to better understand the State Department’s efforts of resettlement and humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and IDPs. Hastings and Dingell have requested an official response to the letter by March 7, 2008. (Please find below a copy of the letter) 

On January 22, Hastings and Dingell sent a letter to President Bush requesting an additional $1.5 billion in funding in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget to aid Iraqi refugees and IDPs. In response to the President’s budget proposal, Hastings and Dingell are leading efforts with other Members of Congress, urging the House Appropriations Committee to recognize the critical need for a robust increase in funding for Iraqi refuges and IDPs. 

February 5, 2008 

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice 
Secretary 
U.S. Department of State 
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20520 

Dear Madam Secretary: 

We write to express our continued concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. While we commend you for your appointment of Ambassador James Foley as Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues, we remain concerned that not enough attention and resources have been focused on the situation deemed by many the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the world. Most disconcerting is the fact that our government does not appear to have a long-term strategy to address this crisis. We have a number of specific questions about the State Department’s response to this situation, which we have outlined below. 

According to recent news reports and discussions with representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others who have been active in the region, the displaced refugee situation may have stabilized, but the humanitarian situation in countries such Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey and within Iraq is becoming increasingly desperate. In addition to the moral and humanitarian elements of this problem, the lack of resources being provided to refugees and displaced persons from the United States and the international community is creating a potential security crisis, as the most vulnerable Iraqis are turning to extremist elements for assistance. 

Additionally, we are troubled by the lack of progress the United States has made to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees. As you know, the United States fell far short of meeting its revised goal of admitting 7,000 Iraqi refugees in Fiscal Year 2007, and reports indicate that the United States does not appear to be making progress towards its goal of admitting 12,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2008. In fact, only 1,324 refugees have been granted admission to the United States this fiscal year, and the rate of admission has actually slowed from 450 in October 2007 to only 245 in December 2007. 

Given these concerns, we ask that you respond to the following questions, so we may better understand the State Department’s efforts to improve resettlement efforts and provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s): 

What are the State Department’s long-term objectives in terms of addressing the plight of Iraqi refugees and IDP’s?  What plans are in place to coordinate with the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration to assist with this crisis?  What plans exist to work with the Iraqi government once the United States military forces withdraw from the region to prevent a vacuum that non-state actors providing humanitarian assistance might fill? 

Do you believe that the United States will meet its goal of admitting 12,000 refugees this year? If not, what is preventing the United States from meeting this goal? Given the State Department’s difficulties in meeting its resettlement goals, why does the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget submitted by the President reduce funding for Migration and Refugee Assistance by $59 million? 

It is our understanding that very few Iraqis currently in Iraq are able to apply for resettlement. Why has the United States not begun to process larger numbers of IDP’s in Iraq, many of whom have been forced to leave their homes because of the assistance they provided to the United States government? What actions does the State Department need to take to begin processing these internally displaced Iraqis? Does the State Department need additional resources to process externally displaced refugees, particularly in Jordan and in Syria, to meet its resettlement goal for 2009? 

Please clarify exactly what Ambassador Foley’s role is. During a briefing to Congressional staff last year, he indicated that he is tasked solely with improving the processing of visa applications for Iraqi refugees and IDP’s. However, as stated above, the United States does not appear to be making progress towards this goal. We are troubled that Ambassador Foley’s mandate apparently does not include coordination of humanitarian efforts, either in Iraq or in other nations in the region currently hosting Iraqi refugees. To that end, are Ambassador Foley’s actions limited by a narrow mandate? Does the State Department have any plans to appoint another Senior Coordinator who is solely responsible for coordinating the United States’ humanitarian efforts in Iraq and surrounding nations? 

What further resources does the State Department need to adequately respond to the Iraqi refugee and IDP crisis? Are there legislative or budgetary issues that Congress should address in the coming year that will assist you in responding to this crisis? 

What actions has the State Department taken to encourage the full distribution of the Iraqi Government’s pledge of $25 million in assistance to neighboring countries last April? What steps does the State Department intend on taking to ensure future Iraqi Government pledges are fully accounted for and disbursed in a timely manner? 

What efforts have been made to engage the international community to address this growing humanitarian catastrophe? What has the State Department done, or what is it planning to do, to encourage our European and other allies to increase their contribution to UNHCR appeals? 

The United States government has a moral responsibility to lead the international response to the Iraqi refugee crisis. We urge the State Department to make it a priority to address the Iraqi refugee crisis and lead the international response as a focal point of United States diplomatic efforts in the region. 

Thank you in advance for your response to these questions. In order for Congress to be able to address these issues in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget process, we ask that you respond to this letter by March 7, 2008. We look forward to working with you in any way we can to help you respond to this crisis. 

Sincerely, 
 

Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.

 

John D. Dingell, M.C.

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