The war in Iraq has internally and externally displaced an estimated 5 million people, the largest relocation in the Middle East since 1948. It's both a massive humanitarian and political problem
and it's received scant attention in the United States -- ironic, as it
The war in Iraq has internally and externally displaced an estimated 5 million people, the largest relocation in the Middle East since 1948. It's both a massive humanitarian and political problem and it's received scant attention in the United States -- ironic, as it was our unilateral military invasion that caused the problem in the first place. This is partly intentional; until very recently, the Bush administration’s response to the displacement crisis has been to ignore it at all costs. Between the start of the war and 2007, the U.S. resettled a mere 466 refugees into the United States. I surmised why more action wasn't taken in an In These Times piece earlier this year:
Admitting that the embattled nation is in the throes of a humanitarian crisis disrupts the narrative that Iraq is stable and the war is winnable. Allowing people from the Arab world to emigrate freely could also brand the GOP as soft on terrorism, a political liability among the party’s conservative base, especially in an election year.
Under intense scrutiny from members of Congress and the international community, the State Department has picked up the pace over the past 15 months, admitting 1,608 Iraqis last year and an estimated 12,000 this year. But as so often happens with the Bush administration, even moderate success is tempered by yet another layer of incompetence. In the case of recent Iraqi refugees, the U.S. hasn't allotted enough resources to non-profits that help such families establish a new life.
Anotono Olivo's Tribune article today is a great example of this dynamic at work. While Michigan was a primary destination for many U.S. bound Iraqis, some have passed over the Wolverine State and its struggling economy to come to Illinois. As Olivo reports, more than 1,000 have landed in the state in the last year, and nearly 1,400 more are expected in the next 12 months. Not surprisingly, local non-profits, many of whom didn't anticipate the surge and are facing tight budgets thanks to the recession, are having difficulty providing adequate services. What's worse, the government's stipend policy is vastly outdated; non-profits with government contracts are only given "$430 per refugee for food, clothing and shelter, plus other public assistance that can last as little as three months," as Olivo notes. And dealing with Iraqi refugees is especially complex, as many are well educated and feel a justifiable sense of entitlement:
Adding to the anxiety is the fact that many arriving Iraqis come expecting more assistance, either because they helped in the U.S.-led war effort or because they harbor resentment over the war's impact, said Melineh Kano, program director of the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries in Uptown.
That occasionally has led to shouting inside cash-strapped non-profits.
"When we tell them we have to find private resources to be able to give them any type of support, that really, really upsets them," Kano said. "They're like: 'Well, we put our life on the line and we are expecting something in return.' "
What should the U.S. do to amend this grave injustice? In short, muscle up the political will to help these suffering families by laying the groundwork for their eventual return and providing for them until that's a realistic option. The Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis has more:
The United States needs to formulate a wide-ranging and workable plan to deal with Iraq’s displacement crisis. First and foremost, the United States must work harder to resolve Iraq’s multiple political conflicts that lead to violence and displacement. Equally important, the United States needs to work with the Iraqi government, the United Nations, and local and international NGOs to create a practical mechanism to cope with issues associated with refugee return—especially property disputes.
Advances in these two critical issues need to be made before encouraging Iraqi refugees to return en masse. Given the difficulty in constructively addressing Iraq’s conflicts and facilitating return, it is likely that Iraq’s displaced will remain so for quite some time. Therefore the United States needs to fulfill its moral responsibility and admit more Iraqi refugees into the United States for resettlement. If a country like Sweden can admit 49,000 Iraqi refugees, surely the United States can do more.