Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce a vital piece of legislation to raise awareness of the impending humanitarian crisis and security breakdown as a result of the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries, and the growing internally displaced population in Iraq.
Our legislation addresses this issue by increasing directed accountable assistance to these populations and their host countries, increasing border security, facilitating the resettlement of Iraqis at risk and broadening domestic relocation assistance.
Madam Speaker, whether you agree or disagree with U.S. policy in Iraq, one thing is crystal clear, we have a humanitarian crisis manifesting in the region that cannot be ignored.
Let’s examine the facts. 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 million Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Many of these Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons lack adequate food, shelter and other basic services. Further, the massive flow of refugees into neighboring countries is straining the social, economic, and security fabric of the host nations and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East region.
My own efforts to address this looming calamity began in August when I wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice highlighting 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 response to my letter, on September 7, 2007, I, along with Helsinki Commission Cochairman Senator BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD) and Helsinki Commissioner Congressman JOSEPH R. PITTS (R-PA), received a briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, PRM, Ellen Sauerbrey, who had recently returned from the region.
It was clear from our discussion that while the United States has been working to address this grave situation, not nearly enough is being done. The United States has a moral obligation to make a serious commitment to help Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations while meeting our commitment to resettle Iraqi refugees referred by the UNHCR.
It is precisely for these reasons that I decided to take swift action and address this worsening crisis with comprehensive legislation.
Among the legislation’s highlights are an authorization of $700 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2008 through 2010 for the relief of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, an increase of direct accountable bilateral assistance and/or funding for international aid organizations and nongovernmental organizations working in the host countries and an authorization of $500 million to increase border security in Jordan.
Additionally, this legislation facilitates the resettlement of Iraqis employed by our government, American companies, and nongovernmental organizations into the United States, broadens domestic relocation assistance to include housing credits, cultural counseling, meetings with social workers, advice on how to work with the schools and employment systems, and requires the Department of State to create a program in the U.S. for English as a second language, vocational, computer training, employment services and some counseling for all Iraqi nationals immigrating to the United States under a Special Immigrant Visa.
Finally this legislation urges increased cooperation between the United States Government and the international community to address this crisis.
In passing this legislation, Congress can reaffirm its commitment to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. Our attention to this crisis could not be more important at this time for the sake of the new Iraq and Middle East regional stability. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution and ask for its expeditious consideration.