Millions of Iraqis who fled war, following the U.S. led invasion of their country in 2003, remain displaced from their homes or are living as refugees in other countries. Experts told a congressional panel Tuesday that these Iraqis do not believe conditions are safe for their return, and they are urging the United States and the international community to do more to help support and resettle Iraqi refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 4.7 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes, with 2.7 million displaced internally and the rest fleeing to Jordan and Syria.
In testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, Nancy Aossey, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit humanitarian organization, International Medical Corps, said it has been a difficult experience for those Iraqis. "The reality, in all three countries, Iraqis have fled insecurity only to face severe poverty and deprivation," she said.
Ellen Laipson, president and chief executive officer of the Henry Stimson Center in Washington, expressed concern about the implications of the displacement of so many people. "The drama of the flow of Iraqis fleeing their homes has huge consequences for Iraq itself: the tragic loss of cultural diversity, the tradition of coexistence in urban neighborhoods and rural villages, the brain drain [loss] of well-trained professionals and the uncertainties of political loyalties and national identities that are provoked by this abrupt shift in the demographic makeup of their country," she said.
Laipson says the refugees do not believe the situation in Iraq is secure enough for their return, and they are not convinced they will be able to support themselves if they do go back to their homes. "So far we have seen perhaps a few tens of thousands returning, and many of them are finding the financial subsidies the Iraqi government offers are not really sufficient to resume the life they had known before. Some of the Iraqis who are trying to return are finding that their socio-economic status has been reduced from what they once enjoyed," she said.
Laipson and Aossey are calling on the United States and the international community to do more to support humanitarian efforts aimed at fostering conditions that would allow a safe and sustainable return of Iraqi refugees.
The chairman of the panel, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, agreed that the United States should not ignore the plight of Iraqis who fled their homes. "It presents to the American people and to the world a moral challenge as well as one that is related to security," he said.
Casey suggested the U. S. government do more to resettle Iraqi refugees in the United States.
U.S. combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by September of next year, with the remaining American forces to pull out by late 2011.