Commission calls for renewed focus on Iraqi refugee crisis

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Event combines live dance, discussion with UNHCR to raise awareness

WASHINGTON - The United States and the international community must provide more humanitarian assistance to the millions of Iraqi refugees still unable to return home more than six years after the invasion of Iraq, leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission said Tuesday.

After an event aimed at raising awareness of the world's largest refugee crisis since 1948, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) called for increasing the aid to countries hosting refugees and the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States.

The Commission event at the U.S. Capitol featured a CityDance live performance -- inspired by travel to the region -- and remarks by a representative from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

"As the attention of the United States and the world turns to Afghanistan and elsewhere, we must remember that millions of Iraqi citizens are still suffering and still waiting to return home safely. Their plight must not be forgotten," Chairman Cardin said.

"This is a huge humanitarian crisis that if not addressed properly could become a destabilizing factor in the region," said Co-Chairman Hastings. "Without action, I fear we will continue to witness the unfolding of a slow-motion disaster."

Co-Chairman Hastings introduced the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act to address this crisis by significantly increasing funding to assist displaced Iraqis and help those seeking to emigrate to America.

An estimated 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced, more than 2 million in neighboring countries. Many lack opportunity, money and food. CityDance artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson recently traveled with a delegation of artists to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria where they met with Iraqi refugees. Their new production, "Wishes of the Sailor," is based on that experience.

"Humanitarian issues tend to drown in numbers," Emerson said. "People become statistics and lives become data. Art, and artists, work at an emotional and human level which is essential to bringing us back to the fact that these are individuals and families living through circumstances which are almost unimaginable."

"Living conditions for Iraqi refugees continue to be very difficult," said Michel Gabuadan, UNHCR Representative in the United States. "While some Iraqi refugees have opted to return, the majority continue to live in neighboring countries, struggling to support themselves and their families."

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

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