New Senate legislation has brought much needed attention to the plight of Iraqis, a move that has energized organizers and advocates for peace and justice in Iraq. On September 17, 2008 U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced S.3509 ‘Support for Vulnerable and Displaced Iraqis Act of 2008’. The bill would require the Secretary of State to develop a comprehensive plan to:
“address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq and potential security breakdown resulting from the mass displacement of Iraqis inside Iraq and as refugees into neighboring countries.”
Senator Casey’s bill cites some startling statistics. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), up to 2,000,000 Iraqis have fled their homes due to instability and violence within the region. Most of these refugees are unable to obtain legal status needed to work in the host countries and have limited access to healthcare and education. Lack of NGO and UN resources to identify and aid the refugees compounds the crisis. Within Iraqi borders the situation is just as unsettling. Another 2,700,000 estimated Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as other vulnerable populations are currently lacking adequate food, shelter, healthcare, clean water and other basic necessities. According to a recent statement made by Senator Casey,
“We have a moral responsibility to help the millions of Iraqis who have been displaced from their homes. It is my hope that this bill will take the necessary first steps to develop a long-term strategy to address the needs of vulnerable Iraqis.”
Additional findings made by Congress emphasize the destabilizing affects of massive displacement within Iraq and the overwhelming social, economic and security stresses placed on bordering host countries due to an immense influx of refugees. The bill asserts that these factors have yet to be addressed by the government. In a recent statement, Senator Cardin highlights this point:
“The lack of planning on the part of this administration and the absence of any long-term comprehensive plan to deal with refugees, threatens to destabilize the entire region and undermine security in Iraq.”
S.3509 further states that the U.S. should take the lead in combating the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. However, the bill stresses that Iraq’s direct involvement and cooperation with the U.S. is key if the two countries want to alleviate suffering in the short-term and ultimately have successful resettlement of refugees, IDP’s and other vulnerable populations. Identifying what conditions are necessary for “voluntary, safe, sustainable” return of displaced Iraqis is a pivotal part of this process. The final objective stated in the bill calls for Congress to decide what policies are most urgently needed to reduce instability in the region.
There is enthusiastic backing for S.3509 among the non-profit community. Some of the organizations who have already given their full support are:
Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC)
EPIC: Promoting a Free & Secure Iraq
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Save the Children
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Endorsement of this bill is growing because the 2008 ‘Support for Vulnerable and Displaced Iraqis Act’ is groundbreaking. Iraq is a frequent topic of debate in Congress yet the humanitarian aspect of the dilemma was often sidelined or given inadequate attention until now. S.3509 centers on the millions of Iraqis who have been forced to flee or relocate. If passed, this bill will bring the plight of displaced Iraqis squarely into the debate surrounding future U.S. policies toward Iraq. Call your Senators and urge them to support this important legislation.
Photo caption: Senators Casey and Durbin with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih in the Green Zone.