NGO Letter to President Obama

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Over 40 U.S.-based Organizations Applaud President Obama’s Promise to Help Iraqis Impacted by the War in Iraq

Groups Call for a Comprehensive Humanitarian, Development and Refugee Resettlement Strategy led by Civilian Agencies

For Immediate Release – Contact: Erik Gustafson at EPIC 202-682-0208

March 4, 2009 (Washington, DC) – Writing to President Barack Obama in response to his new Iraq strategy, more than 40 leading U.S.-based organizations praise the President’s promise to help vulnerable Iraqis and call for a comprehensive humanitarian, development and refugee resettlement strategy led by civilian agencies.

The letter’s recommendations reflect broad consensus among aid agencies working inside Iraq, refugee advocates and resettlement agencies assisting and protecting Iraqi refugees in the region and here in the U.S., leading faith-based organizations, and human rights groups. Here’s a PDF of the letter and list of signers.

While much attention has been given to the military aspects of President Obama’s Iraq strategy, it is his unprecedented humanitarian pledge to Iraqi civilians that has the humanitarian community talking. Last Friday at Camp Lejeune, the President declared:

Diplomacy and assistance is also required to help the millions of displaced Iraqis. These men, women and children are a living consequence of this war and a challenge to stability in the region, and they must become a part of Iraq’s reconciliation and recovery.

America has a strategic interest – and a moral responsibility – to act. In the coming months, my administration will provide more assistance and take steps to increase international support for countries already hosting refugees; we’ll cooperate with others to resettle Iraqis facing great personal risk; and we will work with the Iraqi government over time to resettle refugees and displaced Iraqis within Iraq – because there are few more powerful indicators of lasting peace than displaced citizens returning home.

“For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a U.S. President has publicly acknowledged the humanitarian consequences of the war in Iraq, and outlined America’s strategic and moral imperative to do far more to help millions of vulnerable and displaced Iraqis,” says EPIC Director and Gulf War Veteran Erik Gustafson.

“President Obama’s decision to help displaced Iraqis should help stabilize Iraq and the region,” says Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International, one of the signatory organizations. “Millions of Iraqis cannot begin to return home until they can be assured safety and security. This is primarily the responsibility of the government of Iraq, but the U.S. can help. Secretary Clinton should emphasize assistance inside Iraq to create the kinds of social and economic conditions that would make returns viable. In addition, the U.S. should provide assistance to the countries hosting Iraqis while they await the ability to return home.”

President Obama promised to welcome Iraqi refugees to America and organizations who resettle refugees stress how increasing resettlement will help protect the most vulnerable. “Resettlement offers lifesaving protection for vulnerable Iraqi refugees who are unable to return home safely,” says Bob Carey, Vice President, Resettlement Policy at the International Rescue Committee. “We hope this administration will provide refuge to thousands more Iraqis who are in danger, many of whom risked their lives to help Americans in Iraq, and increase resources to enable them to rebuild their lives in the United States.”

In addition to the many Iraqi refugees who were forced to flee into neighboring countries, there are millions of Iraqis inside of Iraq who are in need of assistance to meet their basic needs, especially those who have been displaced within their own country.

“Since beginning operations in Iraq, International Medical Corps has witnessed the resilience of the Iraqi people. Although there has been a significant decline in violence, improved security alone does not necessarily translate into stability and peace. Certain conditions need to be met to sustain these improvements. We hope that the new Administration and the international community remain committed through the longer term process of recovery and rebuilding,” says Rabih Torbay, Vice President of International Operations for the International Medical Corps, one of the dozen operational humanitarian organizations on the letter. “It is critical that there is continued access to basic services such as health care, along with job creation, affordable and accessible education, empowerment of youth and women, well-planned resettlement for returning families, and most importantly, an Iraqi government that is responsive to the overall needs of its citizens and has capacity to fulfill its mandate.”

Refugees International advocates to end refugee crises. In the last three years, the organization has conducted ten missions to the Middle East to identify the problems facing Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq. For additional comment from Ken Bacon at Refugees International, contact Vanessa Parra at 202-540-7025 (office); 202-904-0319 (mobile); Vanessa@refugeesinternational.org

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) one of eight refugee resettlement agencies on the letter. Through its network of 24 resettlement offices across the United States, the IRC resettled the second largest number of refugees in the U.S. in fiscal year 2008, including 15% of the 13,823 Iraqi refugees who came through the refugee resettlement program. In response to wars, natural disasters and displacement, IRC is also on-the-ground in 42 countries worldwide and serves vulnerable Iraqis in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. For additional comment from Bob Carey at the International Rescue Committee, contact Melissa Winkler at 212-551-0972 (office); 646-734-0305 (mobile); Melissa.Winkler@theirc.org

Since its inception 25 years ago, International Medical Corps’ mission has been to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster, and disease, by delivering vital health care services and building local capacity in underserved communities. Since April 2003, International Medical Corps has continuously operated in Iraq by providing assistance that enables self-reliance, builds local capacity, promotes long-term development, and meets immediate humanitarian needs. For additional comment from Rabih Torbay at the International Medical Corps, contact Stephanie Bowen at 310-826-7800 (office); 323-356-1283 (mobile); SBowen@imcworldwide.org

Signatory agencies:

Alliance of Baptists

America’s Development Foundation

Arab American and Chaldean Council

The Center for Victims of Torture

Church World Service

Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict

Catholic Relief Services

Chaldean Federation of America

Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America

Church of the Brethren Witness

CHF International

EPIC: Promoting a Free & Secure Iraq

The Episcopal Church

Ethiopian Community Development Council

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

International Medical Corps

International Relief and Development

International Rescue Committee

Jubilee Campaign USA

Kurdish Human Rights Watch

Life for Relief and Development

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Mercy Corps

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

North American Dominican Justice Promoters

Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Peace Action & Peace Action Education Fund

Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office

Refugees International

Relief International

Save the Children US

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Veterans for Common Sense

Women’s Refugee Commission

World Relief

3D Security Initiative

To reach any of the above signatory agencies for comment, contact Erik Gustafson at 202-682-0208.

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President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned U.S. organizations, represent concerned Americans and thousands of individuals who are committed to providing the people of Iraq with effective humanitarian and development assistance. At this critical juncture, the United States must continue to strongly engage Iraqis in the recovery, rebuilding and renewal of their country.

We ask you to ensure that the U.S. government delivers more effectively on its commitment to assist and protect vulnerable Iraqis, and to further the long-term development of Iraq, by mandating civilian agencies to take the lead in formulating and implementing an effective humanitarian and development strategy.

Decades of conflict and neglect have taken a heavy toll on Iraqi society, basic services and economic development. Millions of Iraqis remain displaced and millions more are vulnerable. While we welcome improvements in security and humanitarian conditions, these gains are fragile and reversible, and some areas in Iraq remain very dangerous. As a result, many displaced Iraqis are unable to return to their homes safely, voluntarily and sustainably.

For years, the U.S. nonprofit community has engaged in a community-based effort – funded mainly by USAID – to improve conditions in Iraq through time-tested, long-term development techniques. These programs succeed because they build upon the strengths of communities, and because they have an inherently Iraqi face. While these efforts have not been spotlighted as much as military and for-profit reconstruction efforts, they are among the few U.S.-sponsored development programs in Iraq that have largely accomplished their goal. In Hard Lessons, Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, says that “through interventions large and small, in places from community halls to main street businesses, [community-based economic development programs] continued to reinforce democratic processes, build capacity, and spur commerce in more than a hundred neighborhoods across Iraq.”

We applaud your commitment to strengthen humanitarian and development assistance in Iraq and the region. To maximize the effectiveness of this assistance and improve Iraq’s long-term prospects, we urge you to ask Secretary Clinton to lead an inter-agency effort to develop a comprehensive strategy – with clear objectives and measurable indicators of success – for our continued humanitarian, recovery and development response in Iraq and for helping the many Iraqi refugees and their host communities in neighboring countries and to report publicly on progress toward these goals. Thorough consultations would include the Government of Iraq, regional countries, the United Nations, major donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and most importantly, vulnerable Iraqis.

This strategy must include:

  • Goals that allow for measurement of progress toward humanitarian and development objectives—and should take into account the long-term nature of the development progress. There should be clear plans to transition programs from immediate humanitarian assistance to recovery and then longer term development programs. Community-based programming should be leveraged to build local capacity and promote ownership by Iraqis.
  • Assistance inside Iraq, with an emphasis on creating the type of economic, social, humanitarian and governance conditions that would allow for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of the displaced. There needs to be robust progress on providing basic services such as water and sanitation, education, and healthcare. Economic recovery is vital for creating jobs and stability. Special attention needs to be paid to especially vulnerable Iraqis including internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returnees, women, children and youth, people with disabilities, and religious and ethnic minorities. The U.S. government would work with the Iraqi government to enable it to spend more of its resources on vulnerable Iraqis inside Iraq and in the region.
  • Aid for Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and for the communities hosting them.
  • A commitment to resettlement in the United States for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees. Refugee resettlement is an essential tool to protect the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees and to share the burden of hosting them. In that regard, we urge you to commit to accepting 50% of the Iraqi refugees who UNHCR identifies as in need of resettlement. We would also recommend that the federal agencies involved in the resettlement process, including the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement are well-coordinated and adequately funded to ensure a smooth and efficient resettlement process.
  • An adequate budget to support the formulation and implementation of the strategy.

The task of responding to the humanitarian and development challenges in Iraq is daunting. Yet we are confident that strong executive leadership, in partnership with the Congress, can ensure that the U.S. meets its responsibility to Iraq’s civilians, and in doing so ensure a better future for Iraq and the region. As agencies that have been working in and around Iraq for many years, we stand ready to assist you and your administration in developing and implementing a comprehensive response for Iraqi humanitarian relief, recovery and development.

Sincerely,

Alliance of Baptists
America’s Development Foundation
Arab American and Chaldean Council
The Center for Victims of Torture
Church World Service
Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict
Catholic Relief Services
Chaldean Federation of America
Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America
Church of the Brethren Witness
CHF International
EPIC: Promoting a Free & Secure Iraq
The Episcopal Church
Ethiopian Community Development Council
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
International Medical Corps
International Relief and Development
International Rescue Committee
Jubilee Campaign USA
Kurdish Human Rights Watch
Life for Relief and Development
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office
Mercy Corps
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
North American Dominican Justice Promoters
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement
Peace Action & Peace Action Education Fund
Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Refugees International
Relief International
Save the Children US
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Veterans for Common Sense
Women’s Refugee Commission
World Relief
3D Security Initiative

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