By A Nathan Mihelich
Iraq and neighboring countries face the worst humanitarian crisis in the region’s history, including the displacement of more than 4 million people, meanwhile U.S. and international assistance remains woefully inadequate. In spite of current legislation intended to help, tens of thousands of Iraqis remain in danger. It is now nearly impossible for Iraqis – even those fleeing death threats – to leave Iraq.
On April 12 – 14 Dominican Sisters from Amityville, Caldwell, San Rafael, Mission San Jose, Sinsinawa, Springfield, Racine, Adrian, Blauvelt, Grand Rapids, Sparkill, Columbus, and Mosul, Iraq were present in Washington. They represented the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), and joined a coalition of other human rights organizations in Washington, D.C to speak to more than 60 members of congress through their legislative aides. They also met the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, and U.S. State Department and United Nations officials.
The Sisters proclaimed that unless the U.S. Government moves quickly to address the already grave Iraqi displacement crisis, Iraqi civilians will be at great risk, with serious consequences for the entire region.
During face-to-face meetings, the Sisters asked congress to approve an additional $125 million in emergency humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis. They asked that $48 million be specifically allocated to migration and refugee assistance costs associated with the special immigrant visa program. This effort assists Iraqis who are in imminent danger because they aided the US government and military during the ongoing Iraq war. The Sisters also asked for increased support for reconciliation, recovery, and community-based development in Iraq. They insisted that the U.S. increase admissions and resettlement for especially vulnerable refugees from Iraq by giving priority to their cases in accordance with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines.
During these meetings the Sisters wore buttons stating, “I Have Family in Iraq: 4 Million Displaced Iraqi’s 2003-2008.” They presented these to officials to whom they were speaking, explaining that the buttons remind us to keep our promise to the Iraqi refugees.
It may be no coincidence that in September, 2008 the United States surpassed its goal of resettling 12,000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees. The most recent government report shows that 12, 118 Iraqis have been admitted to the United States as refugees. In addition, 870 Iraqis received Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) between October 1, 2007 and August 31, 2008.
U.S. Government humanitarian aid for Iraqi refugees, conflict victims and internally displaced persons has risen to more then $318 million for this fiscal year (From October 1, 2007 until today). The United States has been the largest contributor to programs assisting displaced Iraqis since 2003, funding programs for food, health, education, water and sanitation, emergency shelter and protection.
Dominicans have been deeply and profoundly committed to action on behalf of Iraq since the Sanction of the 1990’s, and are continuing to keep the plight of Iraqi refuges in the public spotlight.
This was first published in JUST Words, Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 2008.