For Immediate Release: June 24, 2008
New York, NY – Yesterday a bi-partisan group of Senators introduced legislation to establish a White House Coordinator for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to direct federal policy regarding the nearly five million Iraqis who have fled their homes and are now displaced in the region.
Human Rights First, which advocates for a comprehensive and effective U.S. policy on the Iraqi refugee crisis, welcomes the new legislation, S.3177, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). A companion bill, H.R.6328, was introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) in the House on World Refugee Day, Friday, June 20.
“The incremental, piecemeal approach of the Bush administration to the Iraqi refugee crisis has been woefully inadequate,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “This complex urban displacement crisis in the heart of the Middle East requires a much greater investment of U.S. resources and diplomacy. A White House Coordinator would elevate this issue to a level of priority commensurate with the challenge.”
The coordinator position proposed by the legislation would be an Ambassador-at-Large, who would be charged with finding long-term solutions for displaced Iraqis, working with the President and the international community to secure and monitor humanitarian assistance, and ensuring that the U.S. government only promotes refugee returns that are safe and voluntary.
“U.S. policy has improved in the past year, but the crisis is growing more complex,” said Amelia Templeton, of the Lifeline for Iraqi Refugees Project at Human Rights First. “The pressure on impoverished Iraqi refugees to consider returning to their country is increasing. But returns could be disastrous if they happen with no guarantee of physical safety, legal protection, or material assistance for the displaced. A White House-level official could ensure that the President recognizes the strategic risks associated with the premature or coerced return of refugees.”
Click here to read Sen. Kennedy’s summary of the bill.