Writing to President Barack Obama in response to his new Iraq strategy, International Medical Corps is one of more than 40 leading U.S.-based organizations to 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.
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.
Signers to the letter note that 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.
“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 International Medical Corps, which has been operational in Iraq continuously since 2003 and is a signatory organization. “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.”
“President Obama’s decision to help displaced Iraqis should help stabilize Iraq and the region,” says Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International, another signatory organization. “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.