Casey Recognizes World Refugee Day

WASHINGTON, DC-Today, on World Refuge Day, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) spoke on the Senate floor to recognize the struggles and contributions made by refugees who were forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution.  Senator Casey witnessed firsthand the challenges facing Iraqi refugees last year when he visited with United Nations and International Organization for Migration personnel in Jordan.  His remarks are attached. 

“Much of the global increase in refugees in 2007 was a result of the volatile situation in Iraq,” said Senator Casey.   “It’s been five years since the fall of Baghdad, and although this Administration refuses to acknowledge it, Iraq and her neighbors are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that threatens the stability of the Middle East.”   

Senator Casey continued, “We here in the United States have a moral responsibility to do right by the millions of Iraqis that have been driven away from their homes, particularly for those that have risked their lives to assist our country.  The American people have responded with their customary generosity and caring spirit in welcoming these Iraqis into our nation.  I am proud to note that my state of Pennsylvania has been a leader in helping resettle our Iraqi allies.  The city of Erie, PA alone will have resettled about 90 Iraqis during this fiscal year.”   

Senator Casey’s full remarks are attached.   

Remarks of U.S. Senator Bob Casey

June 20, 2008 

Madame President, I rise today to recognize June 20th as World Refugee Day, a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to highlight and celebrate the contribution of refugees throughout the world.  World Refugee Day has evolved into an annual commemoration marked by a variety of events in over a hundred countries, including in my home state of Pennsylvania.  

I am proud to note that, since the mid-1970s, more than 100,000 refugees from more than 30 nations have made Pennsylvania their home, enriching the cultural diversity and strengthening the economy of the Commonwealth.  Over time, most have succeeded in adjusting to life in Pennsylvania and the majority have naturalized as U.S. citizens and actively participate in local community life.

This day gives us an important opportunity to pause and appreciate the grave humanitarian situation refugees face worldwide.  Forced to flee their homes and having lost everything, these people have immediate needs including shelter, food, safety, and protection.  But they also have basic human rights – the right to seek asylum, the right not to be returned to a country where they fear persecution, the right to work, and the right to send their children safely to school.  

Between 2001 and 2005, the international community witnessed a decline in the number of refugees worldwide.  Unfortunately, this trend has reversed.  By the end of 2007, there was a 115% increase over just two years in the number of refugees under the responsibility of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  We are now talking about a staggering 11.4 million refugees worldwide.  The number of internally displaced people worldwide is also up, from 24.4 million to 26 million.

Among refugees, Afghans and Iraqis account for nearly half of all refugees under UNHCR’s care worldwide.  Much of the increase in refugees in 2007 was a result of the volatile situation in Iraq.   It’s been five years since the fall of Baghdad, and although this Administration refuses to acknowledge it, Iraq and her neighbors are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that threatens the stability of the Middle East.  

Wherever one stands on the future of the U.S. combat presence in Iraq, we have a moral responsibility to those innocent Iraqis who have been driven from their homes and fear for their lives and their children’s lives every day.  Violence and sectarian conflict are an ever present reality in Iraq, driving away anywhere from one to two thousand Iraqis from their homes every day.

The numbers are sobering.  One in five Iraqis have been displaced.  The UNHCR estimates more than 4.7 million Iraqis have left their homes, many in dire need of humanitarian care.  Of these, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally, while more than 2 million have fled to neighboring states, particularly Syria and Jordan.  In 2006, Iraqis became the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe.

I witnessed firsthand the challenges facing Iraqi refugees last August when I spent time in Jordan meeting with United Nations and International Organization for Migration personnel.  I can report that Iraqi refugees throughout the region have become increasingly desperate and have no where to turn.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Iraqi Government has proven to be unwilling and unable to respond to the needs of vulnerable Iraqis.  While the Government has access to significant oil revenue, it is divided along sectarian lines and lacks both the institutional capacity and the political will to effectively address the growing crisis.  Sectarian militia groups like the Mahdi Army are quickly filling this vacuum to provide services.  The largest “humanitarian” organization in Iraq today is the Sadrist movement affiliated with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose programs provide shelter and food to hundreds of thousands of Shiites in Iraq.  

The international community, including the United States, has been largely in denial over the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis.  Until recently, the conversation was always dominated by talk of reconstruction and development rather than addressing the basic, urgent needs of ordinary Iraqis.  The United Nations only just issued a common humanitarian appeal for Iraq.

We here in the United States have a moral responsibility to do right by the millions of Iraqis that have been driven away from their homes, particularly for those that have risked their lives to assist our country.  In 2007, Congress agreed to provide resettlement benefits to special immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan who have helped the United States and to increase from 500 to 5,000 the number of special immigrant visas from Iraq we will admit to this country.  Both measures passed the Senate by unanimous votes.   

The American people have responded with their customary generosity and caring spirit in welcoming these Iraqis into our nation.  I am proud to note that my state of Pennsylvania has been a leader in helping resettle our Iraqi allies.  The city of Erie, PA alone will have resettled about 90 Iraqis during this fiscal year.

The overall progress, though, in resettling our courageous Iraqi allies has been frustratingly slow due to government bureaucracy and logjams.  Along with colleagues in the Senate and House, I sent a letter to President Bush today questioning the progress the Administration is making on processing resettlement claims for Iraqis who have worked for us and whose lives have been placed in grave danger as a result of such service.  

There is also the larger issue of dealing with the millions of Iraqi refugees in the Middle East.  Iraqi refugees are overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq’s neighbors, especially Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, raising troubling concerns about the region’s stability and shifting sectarian balances.  As Refugees International notes, the Iraqi refugee crisis is essentially exporting Iraq’s instability to its neighbors.  Beyond the obvious humanitarian and moral dimensions, this crisis has grave implications for our national security interests in the Middle East.  

It is time for us to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis in Iraq that is spilling over into neighboring countries.  We must firmly demonstrate our commitment to resettling Iraqi refugees and working with other governments in the Middle East and Europe to provide humanitarian assistance and support.  The Iraqi Government must accept responsibility to care for all of its citizens and the international assistance needed to improve its capacity to do so in a just manner.  

Let me conclude by saying how impressed I continue to be by our brave men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned home to advocate that more be done to help Iraqis and Afghans at risk, particularly those who risked their lives in service to the United States.  Let us in Congress follow their example and keep fighting to help those in the world who are most in need.  After all, that is the great legacy of this country.

Madame President, I yield the floor.

 

 

 

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