As the United States prepares to reduce troop levels in Iraq, the health and welfare of as many as 4.7 million displaced civilians in the region remain at great risk unless there is high-level U.S. engagement and a strategy for addressing Iraq’s socioeconomic needs.
In prepared remarks delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, International Medical Corps President & CEO Nancy Aossey provided an overview of Iraqi displacement, as well as recommendations for addressing the crisis.
“All too many of the millions of displaced Iraqis are suffering the predictable ills of substandard life,” according to Aossey. “They are experiencing deteriorating health, plummeting income levels, reduced education, poor, overcrowded living conditions, and the psychological weight of living a life on hold, uncertain when it might end.”
On a political level, the internal displacement of nearly 10 percent of its population has had a devastating impact on Iraq’s economic prospects and saddled the government with daunting social and political problems. Outside Iraq, the presence of such a large and economically limited refugee population has added an additional burden on host nations already struggling to provide for their own.
While the number of newly displaced families in Iraq has dropped significantly in the past 18 months, there are still an estimated 2.7 million people displaced inside Iraq, and up to two million others believed to have fled to neighboring Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
The majority of those heading home have cited improved security conditions as their reason for moving back. But Aossey warns that the international community must not push for accelerated returns before the proper conditions are achieved, otherwise new, possibly more dangerous problems can arise. “If this process of return fails, the result will be heightened social tensions and a very real danger of a new descent into violence,” she said. Aossey advised the U.S. must remain fully engaged at this critical juncture.
International Medical Corps has been operating in Iraq continuously since the spring of 2003. Our programs are currently serving some 3 million Iraqis, many of them displaced, as well as 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. For more information visit our website at www.internationalmedicalcorps.org.
Read remarks from International Medical Corps’ President and CEO, Nancy A. Aossey.
To read additional coverage of the testimony:
Voice of America: U.S. Senate Panel Considers Plight of Iraqi Refugees
Asociated Press: Senator: U.S. Can’t Ignore Iraqi Refugees