Letter to President Bush: US should lead response to Iraqi refugee crisis

logo2.jpgDear Mr. President:
As humanitarian organizations deeply concerned with the welfare of the people of the Middle East, we are greatly encouraged by your upcoming visit that aims to bolster efforts towards peace and prosperity in the region. As such we would like to call your attention to an issue of great strategic importance to the United States: the humanitarian conditions of Iraq’s displaced civilians.

Over 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, with nearly 2.5 million Iraqi civilians fleeing to neighboring countries, and over 2 million displaced internally within Iraq. This displacement crisis has grave humanitarian implications as well as potential negative ramifications for regional security. At a time when you have expressed optimism about the prospect of regional dialogue as a way forward to an era of peace and prosperity, it is vital that your administration engage proactively to deal with the impacts of Iraqi displacement.

Iraqi refugees are overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq’s neighbors, in particular Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, raising concerns about the potential for further destabilization of the region. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries and are increasingly desperate and in need of humanitarian assistance. Iraqis face challenges in obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries’ health and education systems. Women and children are increasingly vulnerable, and a sense of frustration, despair, and abandonment permeates communities of displaced Iraqis throughout the region.

Mr. President, your visit includes meetings with Arab leaders to engage in discussions about developments in Iraq, as well as regional security, and relations between the United States and these close allies. We can think of no better way to build upon America’s relationships in the region than by having the US government lead the international response to the Iraqi refugee crisis. We believe that it is imperative that you use this visit to the region to highlight the importance of a robust international response to the humanitarian needs of displaced Iraqis.

Many of the wealthy Gulf States, and even the Government of Iraq itself, have been slow in responding financially to the needs of the displaced. We urge you to use your visit to these states as an opportunity to encourage them to contribute desperately needed financial and political support to the host countries to ensure that basic services are available for Iraqi refugees. We also urge you to make leading the international response to the Iraqi refugee crisis a focal point of US diplomatic efforts in the region. The value of a Presidential commitment to resolving this crisis cannot be overstated.

We thank you in advance for your commitment to addressing this problem and wish you all success on your visit to the region.


Ken Bacon
Refugees International

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Philip Davies
Vice President
American Near East Refugee Aid

Radwan Khoury
Executive Director and COO
Arab American and Chaldean Council (ACC)

Joseph T. Kassab
Executive Director
Chaldean Federation of America

Erik K. Gustafson
Executive Director
Education for Peace in Iraq Center

Richard Parkins
Episcopal Migration Ministries

Gideon Aronoff
President and CEO
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Elisa Massimino
Washington Director
Human Rights First

Nancy A. Aossey
President and CEO
International Medical Corps

Arthur B. Keys, Jr.
President and CEO
International Relief and Development

Father Ken Gavin
Jesuit Refugee Service

Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Suhaib Nashi
General Secretary
The Mandaean Associations Union

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee

Morton H. Halperin
Director of U.S. Advocacy
Open Society Institute

Charles MacCormack
President and CEO
Save the Children

Charisse Espy Glassman
Director of Government and Public Relations
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Carolyn Makinson
Executive Director
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children