Senators Urge Bush to Appoint Official for Iraq Refugee Policy

By Walter Pincus / Washington Post Staff Writer
Two leading Democratic senators have called for the Bush administration to appoint a senior official to coordinate overall U.S. policy for the more than 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq during the war and are now in Jordan, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

After receiving a staff report on Iraqi refugees that found “a startling lack of American leadership in a crisis that much of the international community considers a result of our intervention in Iraq,” Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), sent copies to colleagues, along with a letter calling for “appropriate action” by President Bush to create a White House position overseeing policy on refugees and persons who have been displaced within Iraq.

The senators, citing the report, concluded that “the war in Iraq has resulted in one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the post-Cold War era.”

Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha, whose country has become a temporary home to 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, called the refugee crisis “the largest exodus in the history of the Middle East.” Speaking Friday at a discussion in Washington sponsored by Villanova University’s Law School, Moustapha said the Bush administration is “very reluctant” to address the refugee issue because it is a “loud and clear admission that their policies in Iraq have failed.”

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said yesterday that Ambassador James B. Foley and Department of Homeland Security refugee coordinator Lori Scialabba were named last year to manage U.S. efforts on Iraqi refugees. “We believe they are making important contributions and should continue to lead the efforts,” Lawrimore said.

Also on the panel was Jordan’s ambassador to Washington, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, who described as “extraordinary” the influx of 500,000 Iraqi refugees into his country. “It’s the equivalent of 30 million people descending or entering the United States in the space of three years,” he added.

Zeid said the cost of the refugee inflow is running at $1.6 billion a year. He detailed some of the costs, including $290 million to educate about 50,000 Iraqi refugee children, $176 million for health care, $430 million for water and sanitation and $300 million for other services, including energy.