Human Rights First Urges Obama Administration to Lead on Iraqi Refugees
NEW YORK - A leading human rights advocacy group is calling on President-elect Obama to fulfill his campaign's commitment to confront the Iraqi refugee crisis by strengthening oversight and effectiveness of refugee assistance, ensuring that the Iraqi government refrains from pressuring refugees to return home before they can do so in safety, and placing a coordinator for Iraqi refuges in the White House.
Human Rights First today released a comprehensive blueprint - How to Confront the Iraqi Refugee Crisis - which puts forward a strategy for the incoming Obama administration to address the Iraqi refugee crisis as part of its pledge to withdraw from Iraq. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, millions of Iraqis have fled their homes. Today an estimated 750,000 to 2 million Iraqi refugees live in unstable situations in urban centers in the Middle East.
"President-elect Obama has said that we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in," says Elisa Massimino, Executive Director and CEO of Human Rights First. "There will be no responsible withdrawal unless the new administration helps secure a future for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees - by improving their situation in Syria and Jordan, resettling the most vulnerable, and ensuring that refugee returns to Iraq are voluntary."
Chief among Human Rights First's recommendations is the proposal that the President-elect place an Iraqi refugee coordinator in the White House, responsible for ensuring that appropriate policy toward Iraqi refugees is integrated into U.S. strategic and operational plans in Iraq. The position was first proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.
The blueprint also urges the U.S. government to set "refugee benchmarks" for the Iraqi government and for U.S. assistance to shift from the government to NGOs if those benchmarks are not met. The benchmarks would require the Iraqi government to acknowledge that return of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees should be voluntary and to discuss more flexible visa policies for refugees with its neighbors. Human Rights First also proposes that the new administration take steps to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian aid to the region, and announce a two-year campaign to resettle 60,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees.
Additional recommendations include:
- Fulfill the campaign commitment over several years to provide $2 billion in aid for Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and for displaced Iraqis inside Iraq, bilaterally or through UN appeals;
- Keep diplomatic channels with Syria open to ensure that necessary aid reaches Iraqi refugees, contingent on Syria