Letter to Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates: Protect Displaced Iraqis

Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates:

As the U.S. military presence in Iraq shrinks over the coming year, Refugees International urges you to work together to ensure that there is sufficient support and protection for vulnerable displaced Iraqis, both inside Iraq and in neighboring countries. During the 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to “keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us […] Keeping this moral obligation is a key part of how we turn the page in Iraq.  Because what’s at stake is bigger than the war—it’s our global leadership.”

As attention and resources in the U.S. shift to other defense  and foreign policy priorities, we are concerned that the U.S. government’s commitment to the 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Iraq, 500,000 of whom live as squatters in slum areas, and to the refugees who still languish in neighboring countries, is fading. Maintaining and even increasing U.S. support to these vulnerable people must be an essential aspect of present and future U.S. involvement in Iraq as the military engagement draws down.

Though Iraq is well positioned to generate vast sums of revenue from its oil, it will take many years before the government is able to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and provide basic services to its people. Both the political will and the operational capacity of the humanitarian and social service arms of the Iraqi government are weak and ineffectual. Ongoing political and security concerns continue to challenge development efforts.  

This is evidenced not least by the fact that UN and U.S. civilians have virtually no access to the Iraqi people outside of the heavily fortified international zone.  We urge the U.S. to review and adapt its security measures in Iraq to allow civilian staff greater freedom of movement and access to vulnerable communities.  Without this enhanced flexibility and increased access, resources dedicated to humanitarian response and development will not reach the people in need in an effective and timely manner.Refugees International calls upon our Government to demonstrate to the world that the U.S. is not only keeping its word to withdraw the military, but it is also keeping its moral obligation and special responsibility to the innocent victims of this war—the millions who were persecuted and uprooted and forced to flee. We urge you to commit to the long-term resettlement of Iraqi refugees and the support of local, national, and international organizations working to assist displaced Iraqis, both inside Iraq and in neighboring countries.

The U.S. maintained a long term commitment to protecting the refugees and the displaced in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  As a result hundreds of thousands of lives were saved and families were afforded the opportunity to begin anew in safety and dignity.  It is too soon to abandon Iraq’s most vulnerable.  We urge you to commit to addressing their long-term humanitarian needs.

Sincerely yours,

Dan Glickman
President, Refugees International

Cc:     Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Samantha Power, Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, National Security Council