12-16-2011By Ruthie Epstein
Researcher & Advocate, Refugee Protection Program
On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a major speech to the soldiers at Fort Bragg on the end of the war in Iraq. He congratulated them on their honorable service and committed to supporting the soldiers and their families as they transition back to life in the United States. However, the President barely mentioned the Iraq that the United States leaves behind – including the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis forced to flee their country, and the 2 million-plus internally displaced inside Iraq. Such speeches from both ends of the political spectrum are likely to flourish in the next two weeks, as the official date for final troop withdrawal gets closer and closer.
Bloomberg News took up the issue in an editorial on U.S.-affiliated Iraqis on Thursday. And our colleague Kirk Johnson, founder of The List Project for Iraqi Refugees, penned an eloquent appeal on their behalf for the NY Times op-ed page today. Last week, Human Rights First argued that the United States’ moral and strategic interest in providing assistance to the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees displaced by the war does not end with troop withdrawal, and offered recommendations to the U.S. government to re-affirm its commitment to refugee protection.
As the nation considers the nine long years our military spent in Iraq, and welcomes the troops home at last, we cannot forget the country we’ve left behind, nor its people. The conversation over the coming weeks must include an acknowledgement of the millions of Iraqis displaced by the war. Thousands lack permanent and safe housing in Iraq; thousands more languish without formal legal status in their countries of first asylum, awaiting protracted and uncertain resettlement processes. Tens of thousands of children cannot access regular education and their parents cannot work legally. Single or widowed women, LGBTI individuals, religious minorities, journalists, and academics still face threats or violence in their country, as do Iraqis who worked in some capacity with the United States or a U.S.-based organization. 39,000 Iraqis await resettlement processing by the United States inside Iraq, and 18,000 more are in the U.S. resettlement pipeline in Syria.
The troops are back, but the U.S. obligation to the war’s refugees is definitely not over.