USCCB official testifies that U.S. 'should and must' do more to address Iraqi refugee crisis

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WASHINGTON-Testifying before Congress on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Anastasia K. Brown, director of Refugee Programs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said May 1 that the United States is 'not doing everything in its power' to avert a looming refugee crisis in the Middle East. Currently, there are an estimated two million Iraqi refugees, mostly in Jordan and Syria, and two and a half million displaced in Iraq.

Ms. Brown stated that the United States 'should and must' do more to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi refugee population, which is languishing in countries nearby to Iraq- mainly Jordan and Syria. Calling for a commitment of more resources, Ms. Brown specifically pointed to the small number of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States. Only 4,000 Iraqi refugees have entered the United States since the beginning of 2007, despite 24,000 vulnerable cases being referred to the United States for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Ms. Brown called the U.S. response to date 'shockingly inadequate.'

Ms. Brown recalled earlier large-scale U.S. resettlement efforts to demonstrate that the United States is capable, given the political will, of operating similar operations to avert humanitarian crises. She reminded legislators of the resettlement of 135,000 Vietnamese in one year at the end of the Vietnam War and the placement of 14,000 Kosovars in six months in 1999. Ms. Brown concluded that the United States could resettle at least 60,000 Iraqis a year, which would help relieve pressure on host countries and rescue vulnerable refugee groups.

The testimony was presented to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia in joint hearing that sought a Non-Government Organization (NGO) perspective on Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). A copy is available upon request.

As Ms. Brown was testifying, Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB, in conjunction with the International Migration Commission (ICMC), released a detailed study of the needs of vulnerable Iraqi refugees within Syria. The report examines the plight of Iraqi refugees with special needs, such as unaccompanied children and women heads-of-households. It also assesses the existing system of response to these needs, and makes recommendations of the best approaches to address their protection needs. The report can be accessed at