Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: A Deepening Humanitarian Crisis?
Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons:
A Deepening Humanitarian Crisis?
Updated August 15, 2008
Rhoda Margesson, Coordinator
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Policy
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Specialist in Immigration Policy
Domestic Social Policy Division
Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons:
A Deepening Humanitarian Crisis?
Some aspects of the humanitarian crisis many feared would take place in March
2003 as a result of the war in Iraq continue to unfold as a result of post-war
insurgency and sectarian violence. It is estimated that in total (including those
displaced prior to the war) there may be as many as 2 million Iraqi refugees who have
fled to Jordan, Syria, and other neighboring states, and approximately 2.7 million
Iraqis who have been displaced within Iraq itself. Some experts think that the Iraq
situation now outpaces other refugee crises worldwide.
During 2004-2007, the violence and insecurity resulting from the ongoing
sectarian strife, terrorism, and insurgency in Iraq produced substantial civilian
displacement in different parts of the country. Many of Iraq’s neighbors fear that
they are being overwhelmed by refugees who have fled over Iraq’s borders. There are
heightened concerns about the absorptive capacity of neighboring countries, whether
they can provide adequately for the populations that have moved across borders, and
the impact of refugee flows on stability in general. While there is clear evidence of
limited improvement in Iraq — decreasing violence, reduced levels of displacement,
and a handful of returns in a few governorates — the situation in general remains
precarious and requires sustained attention. UNHCR estimates that the number of
Iraqis displaced within Iraq who need food and shelter exceeds 1 million people.
This report provides an analysis of the current crisis, including the conditions
for those displaced in Iraq and the refugee situations in Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere.
It also provides information on the U.S. and international response and examines
refugee resettlement options in the United States. Aspects of this crisis that may be
of particular interest to the 110th Congress include a focus on an immediate response
(providing humanitarian relief funding), examining resettlement policies, and
developing a strategy to manage the displaced, particularly within Iraq. This report
will be updated as events warrant. For more information on Iraq, see CRS Report
RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security by Kenneth Katzman; and
CRS Report RL33793, Iraq: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy coordinated by
Displacement Within Iraq...........................................3
Profile of Displacement.....................................4
Immediate Consequences of Displacement......................5
Iraqi Government Response to IDPs...............................5
Iraqi Refugees in Neighboring Countries...............................6
A Profile of the Displaced...................................7
U.S. and International Assistance.....................................8
U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).....................8
U.N. Humanitarian Operations...............................9
Donor Contributions and Coordination: International Compact
Strategic Framework for Humanitarian Action in Iraq............10
U.S. Humanitarian Response....................................12
Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration................12
Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.........................12
U.S. Humanitarian Assistance...............................12
FY2008 and FY2009 Supplemental...........................13
U.S. Refugee Program and Iraqi Refugees.............................14
Issues for Congress...............................................17
Voluntary Returns to Iraq.......................................17
Forcible Returns .............................................17
Capacity of the Iraqi Government................................18
Increased International Funding..................................18
U.S. Humanitarian Response in Iraq..............................19
Competing Aid and Budget Priorities.............................19
Links to Broader Iraq Policy....................................19
Appendix. Iraq’s History of Displacement.............................21
List of Tables
Table 1. Inside Iraq: Profile of Estimated Populations of Concern...........5
Table 2. Inside Iraq: Estimated Displacement Totals Over Time.............5
Table 3. Iraqi Refugees in Neighboring Countries........................7
Table 5. Returnees in Iraq, 2002-2006.................................21
Table 6. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq......................21
Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced
Persons: A Deepening
Many experts consider national reconciliation the key to halting sectarian
warfare and the displacement of Iraqis from their homes. While some experts agree
that Iraq’s major communities remain sharply divided over their relative positions in
the power structure, the Bush Administration reportedly sees signs of movement on
political reconciliation partially attributed to the impact of the 2007 troop surge in
reducing the level of violence. The reduced violence has, at the very least, ensured
that the displacement problem has not worsened any further in 2008. If movement
toward political reconciliation takes hold, this could create conditions for decreasing
the current rates of displacement and could increase the desire of the international
community to address the refugee and displaced persons issue. Most experts believe
that reconciliation would also enhance capacity in Iraq’s ministries responsible for
security, basic services, and providing assistance to those displaced Iraqis.
The insecurity resulting from ongoing violence in Iraq continues to have a
marked impact on civilian displacement in various parts of the country. This was
particularly the case during the past two years, when sectarian violence accelerated
an already developing pattern of population displacement and emigration. The
numbers of displaced Iraqis are very fluid and vary by source. For example, the Iraqi
Red Crescent Society estimates of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
exceed those published in a January 2008 report by the Migration Policy Institute,
which states that there were close to 4.5 million displaced Iraqis (2.2 refugees and 2.3
IDPs). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)1 now
estimates close to 4.7 million Iraqis are currently displaced from their homes,
1 UNHCR is the U.N. agency dedicated to the protection of refugees and other populations
displaced by conflict, famine, and natural disasters. It provides legal protections,
implements long-term solutions, and coordinates emergency humanitarian relief for refugees
and other displaced persons. In Iraq, UNHCR is the lead on protection and shelter.
“Refugee” as defined under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees, is a person who is outside his or her country and who is unable or unwilling to
return because of persecution or well-founded fear of persecution on account of race,
religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
“Returnee” is a refugee who returns to his or her home country; and “IDP” is a person who
has not crossed an international border but remains displaced inside his or her own country.
UNHCR considers all categories part of “Populations of Concern.”
including roughly 2.7 million inside Iraq and 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq,
mostly to neighboring Jordan and Syria.2
When the displacement crisis accelerated in 2006,UNHCR observed that the
humanitarian crisis many feared would take place in March 2003 as a result of the
war had begun to occur. “The massive displacement has emerged quietly and
without fanfare but the numbers affected are in excess of what many agencies had
predicted in 2003.”3 Then, as now, there were also concerns about the absorptive
capacity of neighboring countries, whether they could provide adequately for the
populations moving across borders, and the potential impact of refugee flows on
stability in the region. The Iraq situation has begun to outpace other population
displacement crises worldwide. As the figures grow, higher food and fuel prices and
decreasing subsidies are limiting the ability of aid agencies to provide assistance.
It is estimated that 1.2 million Iraqis were displaced before 2006, 1.5 million
Iraqis were displaced between 2006 and 2007, and less than 1% have been displaced
in 2008. While there are some reports of limited improvements — decreasing
violence, reduced levels of displacement, and a handful of returns in a few
governorates — the situation in general remains very serious and requires sustained
attention.4 UNHCR estimates that the number of Iraqi IDPs who need food and
shelter exceeds 1 million people.5
The figures on population displacement illustrate the challenges ahead. As the
110th Congress considers various policy options toward Iraq, the impact of this level
of displacement — which is the largest in the Middle East since 1948 — cannot be
overestimated in terms of its impact on regional stability and the potential for
humanitarian suffering. Experts suggest that what is badly needed — and quickly —
is the development of a robust response on the part of the international community
that provides and funds humanitarian relief; conducts a close examination of
resettlement policies and options in third countries; develops a strategy to manage the
2 IDP Working Group, “Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq - Update,” March 24, 2008.
See also UNHCR, “Iraq Situation Update April-May 2008;” and U.S. Department of State,
“Update on IDP and USAID Mission Activities in Iraq,” June 27, 2008. All displacement
figures must be taken as estimates due to insufficient data. Monitoring and registration are
incomplete because of poor security, a lack of access to some areas, and ongoing movement
of possibly thousands of people per day.
3 UNHCR, “Update on the Iraq Situation,” November 2006. See also CRS Report RL31814
Potential Humanitarian Issues in Post-War Iraq: An Overview for Congress, by Rhoda
Margesson and Joanne Bockman. Also, “Iraq Stands on Brink of Civil War, ‘Violence
Seems Out of Control,’” Special Representative Tells Security Council, SC/8895, December
4 See for example, International Rescue Committee, “Uprooted Iraqis: An Urgent Crisis,”
December 2007; Refugees International, “Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent
Humanitarian Needs in Iraq,” April 2008; Amnesty International, “Iraq — Rhetoric and
Reality: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis,” June 2008; International Organization for Migration,
“Iraq Displacement 2007 Year in Review,” January 2008.
5 UNHCR, “Internal Displacement in Iraq,” April 8, 2008.
displaced, particularly within Iraq; and implements increased funding to host
countries and aid agencies outside Iraq.6
Displacement Within Iraq
Displacement within Iraq has usually been the result of sectarian conflict and
general armed violence, local criminal activity, coalition military operations, and
fighting among militias and insurgents. Direct personal threats, abductions,
assassinations, and death threats remain commonplace, although less so than in 2007.
Religious belief, political or tribal affiliation, and association with U.S. forces or
Iraqi authorities can also make someone a target for violence. All of these activities
continue to create an atmosphere of generalized fear for many ordinary Iraqis.
Within Iraq, the current conditions clearly bear the mark of sectarian polarization and
“cleansing” in neighborhoods formerly of mixed religious orientation that took place
during 2006 and 2007. In recent studies, the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) found that IDPs tended to be from mixed neighborhoods and
displaced to homogenous ones. The movement occurred predominantly in and
between urban areas — with more than 70% fleeing Baghdad.7 At least 10 of the 18
Iraqi provinces have now tried to place entry restrictions on their internal borders to
Iraqis displaced from elsewhere in the country.
Overall living standards within Iraq have declined sharply since 2003. Human
development indicators — access to health care, social services, education,
employment — have fractured under the current circumstances and affected wider
social networks in Iraqi society. Limited assistance activities and access by the
international community have made implementation of tangible, long-term policy
objectives difficult. Within many areas in Iraq, conditions are deteriorating and, for
those already displaced, are becoming more permanent problems. Many who cannot
secure protection or assistance could soon find themselves in the same situation.
According to some estimates, Iraq’s population is 26.8 million, this means that nearly
There are many patterns of displacement, some that have their origins decades
ago, but have now evolved into a new phase — for example, the approximately
300,000 refugees who were in Iran before the 2003 war, then returned to Iraq, and
now are believed to have been displaced again, this time within Iraq. Others were
refugees from other countries in the region who fled to Iraq and are now on the move
again within its borders. Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime left a legacy of
displacement, as his regime forcibly displaced Iraqi Shiites and Kurds in order to
control territory, terrorize the population, and fight insurrection. Some experts
estimate as many as 1.5 million may have been displaced over the three decades of
6 See also Elizabeth Ferris, Security, Displacement and Iraq: A Deadly Combination, the
Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, August 27, 2007; and Carlos Pascual, The
United Nations in Iraq, Foreign Policy at Brookings, Policy Paper No. 3, September 2007.
7 International Organization for Migration, “Iraq Displacement 2007 Year in Review,”
Profile of Displacement. There have been no reliable census data on Iraq’s
ethnic and sectarian makeup for decades. Iraq’s population represents a number of
ethnic groups and religions. In general throughout Iraq, patterns have shown that
Shiites have moved from the center to the south; Sunnis from the south to the upper
center; Christians fled to Ninevah Province and Kurds ended up within Diyala or
Tamim/Kirkuk Provinces.8 Palestinians in Iraq (who numbered close to 34,000
before the war and are mostly Sunni) have been particularly vulnerable to reprisal
attacks by Shiites as they received preferential treatment from Saddam Hussein. The
United Nations estimates that possibly only 10,000-15,000 Palestinians remain in
Iraq, many have been killed, and others have been displaced again. There are two
refugee camps on the Syrian border to which Palestinians have fled from Iraq and
reportedly the living conditions urgently need to be addressed. Some progress has
been made on resettling some of the Palestinians in Canada, Brazil, Chile, and
Those Iraqis who have worked with the U.S. government, the new Iraqi10
government, or international organizations have been particularly targeted. In
addition, there are vulnerable groups within these categories of displaced including
the elderly, sick, pregnant women, and children. (See “U.S. Refugee Program and
Iraqi Refugees” section later in this report.)
Most of those displaced are moving in with family and friends who live in areas
where one sect overwhelmingly predominates. When this is not possible they go to
public facilities, such as schools and factories (some people are squatting in damaged
or abandoned property, such as mosques) and in much smaller numbers, to camps set
up by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society or Ministry of Displacement and Migration
(MoDM). Repeat-displacement, which means moving a second time, or repeatedly,
most commonly applies to those displaced by military operations.11
Daily behavior by those who are displaced or living in fear for their lives may
also vary to avoid establishing any predictable pattern: Micro and nighttime
displacement means that a person is living in his or her home, but sleeping elsewhere.
Daylight displacement involves shifting routines, routes, and activities. And fake
8 Ibid. In addition, another account of displacement is provided by Al-Khalidid and Tanner,
who define several categories of those displaced, including Sunni Arabs from Shi’a areas;
Shi’a from Sunni areas; Arabs (both Shi’a and Sunni) and other minorities from Kurdish
areas; and minority groups from both Sunni and Shi’a areas. These include Iraqi Christians,
Sabean-Mandeans, Shi’a Turkmen, the Roma, Baghdad and Basra Kurds, and third country
nationals, including Palestinians and Iranian Kurds. See Ashraf al-Khalidid and Victor
Tanner, “Sectarian Violence: Radical Groups Drive Internal Displacement in Iraq,” October
9 UNHCR, “UNHCR Concerned About Situation of Palestinians on Iraq Border,” March 18,
10 Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, “Humanitarian Issues and Politics in
Iraq,” February 14, 2007.
11 The Ministry of Displaced and Migration, Information Department, is preparing a report
on basic statistics of post-February 2006 Internally Displaced Persons in cooperation with
the IOM, Iraq Mission in Amman.
displacement are those who pretend to be displaced and build homes on government
land or the land of locals.12
Immediate Consequences of Displacement. There are many
consequences to displacement. In the short term, the IOM reports examine the
deterioration of basic humanitarian needs and services, not only from displacement
itself, but due to lack of employment and a huge economic decline throughout the
country. Needs expressed by displaced Iraqis include food, water and sanitation, fuel
and electricity, shelter, health care, and education. This level of displacement has
increased competition for limited resources and continues to place huge burdens on
host communities, which in turn has had an impact as communities reach their
Table 1. Inside Iraq: Profile of Estimated Populations
Refugees in Iraq (Palestinian, Syrian, Iranian, Turkish, Sudanese,50,000 +
many further displaced in Iraq)
Returnees (mainly from Iran; many further displaced in Iraq)300,000
Stateless (Bedouins, etc.)130,000
Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Table 2. Inside Iraq: Estimated Displacement Totals Over Time
IDPs (old caseload, prior to 2003)1,200,000
IDPs (since Feb 2006)1,500,000
Iraqi Government Response to IDPs
Iraqi government ministries providing assistance to the displaced include the
Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM), the Ministry of Trade, which is
in charge of the allocation of food rations, the Ministry of Interior, which provides
documentation for services such as registration for food rations, and the Ministry of
Education, which is in charge of registering school children, many of whom have
been displaced and need to be enrolled in local schools. Support of the displaced in
the provinces is usually handled by a committee and is considered more effective.
There are also informal committees set up in local communities and in mosques. As
12 Al-Khalidid and Tanner.
13 International Organization for Migration, “Iraq Displacement 2006 Year in Review,”
January 2007 and “Iraq Displacement 2007 Mid-Year Review,” July 2007; and “Iraq
Displacement 2007 Year in Review,” January 2008.
a national aid agency that has been largely viewed as non-sectarian, the Iraqi Red
Crescent assists the displaced throughout the country through its 18 branches.
There have been concerns by Iraq’s neighbors, the United States, and other
donor countries that the Iraqi government is not doing enough to assist with its
displaced citizens. At a conference in Sweden in late May 2008, the Maliki
government apparently made a pledge of $195 million to assist the displaced.14 The
International Compact with Iraq annual report states that in addition to $25 million
transferred to Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan to support Iraqi refugees, the government
of Iraq has allocated $195 million to support voluntary returnees. Details have not
been made available confirming the timetable and how the funding will be
distributed, although this report says the funding is for emergency costs and housing
The United States, UNHCR, and other international partners are working with
the government of Iraq to assess what policies and programs are in place to
accommodate returns and what will be required once conditions permit voluntary
returns to begin. In the meantime, some experts believe that the sectarian groups
have tried not only to consolidate territory, but also to fill the gap as “protector and
provider” in the provision of services the government cannot fulfill for the
displaced.16 Relatively few international humanitarian organizations are working in
Iraq because of the unstable security situation. There are 32 humanitarian
international NGOs with programs in Iraq (some operating through implementing
partners). Those that are there keep a very low profile. Since 2003, it is reported that
Iraqi Refugees in Neighboring Countries18
Since 2003, Iraq’s neighbors have willingly or unwillingly absorbed
approximately 2 million refugees fleeing violence and instability in their home
country. Jordan and Syria have been the primary destination for the displaced, and
by all accounts, both countries have been stretched thin in trying to provide adequate
services for largely unwanted refugee populations. Although the plight of many
14 Reuters Foundation, “U.S. Says Iraq Should Promote Refugees’ Return,” June 3, 2008;
U.S. Department of State, “Update on IDP and USAID Mission Activities in Iraq,” June 27,
15 The International Compact with Iraq: A New Beginning, Annual Review, May 2007-April
16 Al-Khalidid and Tanner, p. 1.
17 Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance, “Iraq
Humanitarian Assistance Report,” June 18, 2008.
18 This section was written by Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs,
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division.
Iraqis refugees is difficult but not dire, there is much concern that the situation could
deteriorate over time if the existing refugee populations remain for a prolonged
period or if new waves of refugees flood Iraq’s neighbors.
Beyond the dire humanitarian consequences of scattering nearly 10% of Iraq’s
pre-war population into neighboring countries lie the long-term impact of this large
scale displacement on the geopolitics of the Middle East. Many Iraqis have indicated
that they will never return home, raising questions over their future status in their
new homes. Will Iraq’s neighbors move toward integrating refugees into the citizenry
at large? Or, will Iraqis be treated as second-class citizens and form a permanent
underclass similar to the situation of Palestinian refugees? Will Iraqis become
politically active in their host countries and form diaspora organizations? Or, will
they be barred from politics altogether driving the most extreme elements to pursue
radical causes? Will sectarian violence spill over from Iraq into neighboring states,
bringing an added element of instability into an already volatile region?
A Profile of the Displaced. Of those who have fled Iraq, various reports
indicate that many refugees were from Iraq’s now decimated middle class. Numerous
interviews of Iraqi refugees conducted outside Iraq have revealed that Iraqi
professionals who fled the country were the least sectarian elements in society, and
many fled to escape both the general threat of sectarian violence and the specific
threat of kidnapping, which has become a common criminal enterprise conducted by
insurgents and organized gangs.
Table 3. Iraqi Refugees in Neighboring Countries
a. Refugee figures should be considered estimates. UNHCR has been short of funding, staff and
resources, and therefore unable to process all refugee documentation and adequately monitor
borders. It is relying on host governments to record refugee inflows.
Unlike other refugee crises in war-torn areas, the status of Iraqi refugees in
neighboring states is more difficult to discern. At present, there are no makeshift tent
cities for the homeless and destitute, though aid agencies did construct such facilities
in 2003 in anticipation of a refugee crisis that did not materialize. While Iraqis
refugees are far from being assimilated into their host country, they have blended into
urban areas, settling into cities like Amman and Damascus. Many Iraqis who fled the
country before/after the U.S. invasion had some temporary means of supporting
themselves either through their personal savings or remittances from relatives abroad.
Wealthy Ba’th party members and supporters of the Saddam Hussein regime who
fled to Jordan in 2003 were dubbed “Mercedes refugees” by the diplomatic
community and the press.19 Nevertheless, aid workers assert that the newer waves
of Iraqis who crossed the border are progressively poorer than their predecessors and
prioritizing those most in need of assistance has become more critical. Aid workers
note that because the Iraqi refugee population has blended into urban areas, they are
harder to identify, document, and assist.
There are many challenges that face Iraqi refugees living abroad. Aside from the
social isolation that accompanies their separation from family and tribe, Iraqis may
face discrimination and disdain from citizens who view them as competition for jobs
and access to strained social welfare services. Unemployment was already high in
Syria and Jordan before the Iraqis’ arrival, and both countries bar them from legally
working during their stay. Access to affordable healthcare is difficult for most
refugees without significant personal savings, forcing many new arrivals to turn to
international aid agencies. Some estimate that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi
children are not attending public school while in exile. According to one aid worker,
“We are finding that a lot of participants in the youth programs we’re running — a
very high number, sometimes up to 30 percent per class — are illiterate or close to
illiterate.”20 Moreover, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon are not state parties to the 1951
United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and/or its 1967
Protocol, which makes UNHCR’s role more difficult, as the term “refugee” and the
protection mandates recognized under international law are not formally recognized
in these countries.21
U.S. and International Assistance
U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Despite the devastating
bombing of its Baghdad compound five years ago in August 2003, the United
Nations has been a central actor in helping to address Iraq’s humanitarian situation
and has taken on a growing role in political reconciliation and economic
reconstruction. The United Nations also has a significant role in addressing the
problem of displaced Iraqis.
19 U.S. policymakers assert that some senior ex-Ba’th party members residing in Syria have
provided material and logistic support to the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq.
20 “Illiteracy Increasing among Iraq’s Refugee Children,” McClatchy Newspapers, December
21 UNHCR currently operates in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon under a Memorandum of
Understanding that binds UNHCR to resettle every person it determines is a refugee. For
background information, see UNHCR, Resettlement of Iraqi Refugees, March 12, 2007.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), established by U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1500, was adopted on August 14, 2003. The United
Nations Country Team — composed of 16 U.N. agencies and programs involved in
Iraq — is coordinated by UNAMI22 and works with international and local staff.
Steffan de Mistura is the U.N. Secretary General’s special envoy to Iraq and head of
UNAMI. The U.N. Operation in Iraq is divided into clusters, including the
!Agriculture, Food Security, Environment/Natural Resources
!Education and Culture.
!Governance and Human Development.
!Health and Nutrition.
!Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Durable Solutions.
!Support to the Electoral Process.
Cross-cutting issues include security, human rights, gender, environment, and
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1830 (2008), approved August 7, 2008,
extended UNAMI’s mandate another year.23 After the 2003 bombing of UNAMI
headquarters in Baghdad, a centralized coordination point for humanitarian activities
was established in Amman, Jordan, and most other U.N. activities were either
curtailed or conducted by international staff from Jordan, using Iraqi nationals to
implement programs within Iraq. The number of U.N. international staff in Iraq itself
has grown significantly in the past year; in December 2007, there were 250-300, as
well as about 500-600 local staff.
U.N. Humanitarian Operations. In coordination with the Iraqi Ministry of
Displacement and Migration (MoDM), UNHCR is the focal point for the United
Nations’ Cluster Approach on refugees and IDPs. The International Organization for
Migration (IOM) serves as deputy coordinator. In addition to UNAMI, other partners
include U.N. Operations (UNOPS), the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF), U.N. Habitat, and the World Health Organization
(WHO). In neighboring countries, UNHCR works with the U.N. country teams.
Donor Contributions and Coordination: International Compact for
Iraq. In response to a continuing U.S. effort to encourage greater levels of donor
contributions, on July 27, 2006, the U.N. and government of Iraq launched an
International Compact for Iraq. Under this initiative, participating donor countries
have pledged funds and, in return, the government of Iraq has promised a five-year
program of specific reforms and actions leading to long-term economic and political
22 For the complete list of U.N. organizations involved in Iraq, see
[http://www.uniraq.org/ a boutus/unct.asp].
23 Previous U.N. Security Council Resolutions to extend the mandate of UNAMI include
S/RES 1546 (2004); S/RES 1557 (2004) S/RES 1619 (2005); S/RES 1700 (2006) and
S/RES 1770 (2007).
development. The Compact was finalized at a donor meeting held in Egypt on May
3, 2007, attended by more than 60 countries. The First Anniversary Ministerial
Review of the International Compact with Iraq was held in Stockholm, Sweden, on
May 29, 2008. The first annual review of progress makes a brief reference to the
vulnerability of IDPs and ongoing discussions with neighboring countries about
assistance to Iraqi refugees.
On August 13, 2008, the United Nations and the government of Iraq signed a
three-year agreement to support the achievement of the goals outlined in the
International Compact with Iraq. The cooperation agreement outlines a strategy that
will focus mostly on reconstruction, development, and humanitarian needs. It will
be funded by the government of Iraq and other funds that draw on international
support, including the U.N. Development Group Iraqi Trust Fund and the U.N.
Humanitarian Appeal for Iraq.
Strategic Framework for Humanitarian Action in Iraq. An
international conference on Iraqi displacement took place in Geneva, Switzerland on
April 17-18, 2007. The conference approved a Strategic Framework for
Humanitarian Action in Iraq, which was developed by the United Nations and
partners, and emphasizes the importance of coordination and expansion of
humanitarian assistance activities inside Iraq. Donor contributions from other
governments and intergovernmental entities have also been forthcoming, particularly
towards the emergency U.N. and other humanitarian appeals, but some consider the
response to be inadequate.24 At the donor’s conference, the Iraqi government pledged25
$25 million to assist Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. Payment of $15
million was made to Syria and $2 million to Lebanon. Jordan did not accept direct
payment, and instead the money was recently contributed to UNHCR for its refugee
program in Jordan. As mentioned earlier in this report, the Iraqi government is
reported to have made a pledge of $195 million to assist displaced Iraqis.
Humanitarian Appeals. UNHCR’s Iraq budget in 2003 was approximately
$150 million to deal with possibly 600,000 refugees. In 2006, its Iraq budget was
$29 million (although not fully funded) until January 31, 2007, when it submitted its
2007 supplementary appeal for $60 million. This appeal was increased to $123.7
million in July 2007. In addition, UNHCR and the United Nation’s Childrens Fund
(UNICEF) put forward a Joint Education appeal of $129 million to enroll 150,000
Iraqi children in Jordanian and Syrian schools. A U.N. interagency appeal of nearly
$85 million to improve health care access for displaced Iraqis in neighboring
countries was submitted on September 18, 2007.26 UNHCR’s 2008 appeal is for
24 For one analysis of the response by the international community, see Amnesty
International, Millions in Flight: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis, September 24, 2007.
25 See Chairman’s Summary, International Conference on Addressing the Humanitarian
Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons Inside Iraq and in Neighboring
Countries, Geneva, April 17-18, 2007.
26 Joint Appeal by UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO, Health Sector Appeal,
Meeting the Needs of Iraqis Displaced in Neighboring Countries, September 18, 2007.
$261 million.27 The Expanded Humanitarian Response (ERF) provides flexible
funding for emergency response mainly to bridge gaps between sectors.
Contributions since August 2007 total $6.78 million.28 UNHCR and ERF provide
selected examples of humanitarian appeals.
According to UNOCHA, in 2007, the international community provided $371.2
million for humanitarian assistance to Iraq. As of June 2008, humanitarian assistance
contributions total $371.2 million, of which $127.7 is for the Consolidated Appeals
Process (CAP) 2008 appeal request of $265 million for Iraq.29 However, for 2008,
the total of current appeal requests through the United Nations and other international
organizations is close to $900 million.
Resettlement. Resettlement applications from Iraqi refugees have increased
in Europe. Sweden saw a fourfold increase in applications in 2007. As countries
determine their resettlement policies with regard to Iraqi refugees, it will be possible
to compare these with U.S. policy decisions on the issue. UNHCR has over 300 staff
working on its Iraq operation, registering refugees in countries neighboring Iraq, with
some of the most vulnerable referred to resettlement countries including the United
States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Brazil.
In order to offer protection and assistance to Iraqi refugees, and to identify the
most vulnerable, UNHCR developed ten categories of risk, which include “victims
of detention or severe trauma or torture; women at risk; those with medical
conditions and disabilities who cannot access treatment; dependants of refugees
residing in resettlement countries; older persons at risk; unaccompanied or separated
children; high profile cases; those who fled as a result of their association with
foreign entities such as the MNF; stateless persons; and those who are members of
minority groups who have been targeted owing to their religious or ethnic
background.” Those considered the most vulnerable may then be referred for30
resettlement in a third country.
UNHCR met with the main resettlement countries in Geneva, Switzerland, in
February 2008, and an agreement was reached to form a Core Group on Iraqi
Resettlement that meets periodically in both the field and at headquarters to exchange
information and make decisions on policy, technical, and other issues requiring
27 UNHCR, “UNHCR Faces Funding Shortfall for Iraq Operation,” May 9, 2008.
28 UNOCHA, “Iraq: NGO Micro Grant Expanded Humanitarian Response Fund Bulletin No.
29 See https://www.reliefweb.int/fts.
30 See Statement by United Nations High Commission for Refugees Assistant High
Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Migration Policy Institute Briefing,
September 18, 2007.
U.S. Humanitarian Response31
According to the State Department, the U.S. government has provided more
than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to displaced Iraqis and other vulnerable
populations since 2003.32 Most requests from the Bush Administration and
congressional action have come though emergency supplemental appropriations.
After the bombing of the Shiite Muslim Al-Askariya shrine in February 2006,
sectarian violence in Iraq accelerated an already developing pattern of population
displacement. The funding numbers reflect the increased humanitarian needs on the
Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration. The State
Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) at the State
Department is providing assistance to refugees mostly through implementing
partners, including UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC). Small groups displaced at the border are also considered refugees.
Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. The Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance (OFDA) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is
providing assistance focused on IDPs and the host communities inside Iraq. Since
March 2003, OFDA has continued its aid program at various levels.
OFDA has five implementing partners that work mostly with local agencies, in
part because of the security situation and limited access in Iraq. OFDA is continuing
its work with host communities, a number of which are feeling the strain and finding
it hard to cope with the extra burden of the increasing numbers. OFDA’s strategy has
been to support the host to help meet their needs and so they in turn can maintain
their capacity for helping IDPs. Activities include provision of emergency relief
supplies, water systems, and infrastructure rehabilitation in host communities,
support for emergency and mobile medical teams, and small-scale livelihood
projects. It also works with the MoDM on information management coordination33
and capacity building. There are a wide range of skills and capacities in the NGO
community. The NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq is made up of mostly
European NGOs, but it does not consult with the U.S. government. Interaction, the
U.S.-based umbrella organization for American NGOs, also has an Iraq working
U.S. Humanitarian Assistance. In FY2007, the total amount obligated for
humanitarian assistance through PRM and OFDA was $171 million, which included
$37 million to UNHCR’s appeal and $39 million to the UNHCR/UNICEF Joint
Education Appeal. Estimates of the overall 2008 humanitarian needs have increased
31 See CRS Report RL33769, International Crises and Disasters: U.S. Humanitarian
Assistance, Budget Trends and Issues for Congress, by Rhoda Margesson.
32 United States Department of State, “U.S. Humanitarian Assistance for Refugees and
Internally Displaced Iraqis,” April 15, 2008.
33 For more information, see U.S. Department of State, “Update on IDP and USAID Mission
Activities in Iraq,” June 27, 2008.
considerably. The United States has provided $95 million (or more than 36%)
toward UNHCR’s appeal and made contributions to other international organizations.
According to the State Department, as of June 3, 2008, the United States has pledged
or contributed a total of $208 million in humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis
for the first half of FY2008.34 The FY2009 regular budget request did not include
funding for Iraqi refugees or IDPs.
FY2008 and FY2009 Supplemental. The Administration’s FY2008
supplemental request, as amended in October 2007, asked for $230 million for
Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) for anticipated and unanticipated refugee
and migration emergencies, of which $195 million was requested for humanitarian
assistance to Iraqi refugees. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161),
$200 million was appropriated for MRA (of which $149.4 to date has been approved
for Iraqi refugees.) The remaining $30 million (of the original $230 million request)
became part of the Administration’s second FY2008 supplemental request.
On May 2, 2008, the Administration requested $191 million in the FY2009
supplemental MRA funding, which included$141 million for Iraqi refugees.
The Administration’s second FY2008 supplemental request did not include
funding for the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account. (In the Consolidated
Appropriations Act [P.L. 110-161], $110 million was appropriated for the emergency
humanitarian assistance, with $80 million for Iraq.) The Administration requested
$45 million in its FY2009 supplemental request.
Congressional Action. For the FY2008 supplemental, the June 30-enacted
version of H.R. 2642 provides $315 million for MRA, which is $285 million above
the request, to meet global refugee needs worldwide, including for Iraqi refugees in
Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and the region, and for IDPs in Iraq. These
funds may also be used to support the admissions costs of Iraqi refugees and other
requirements of the Iraqi refugee program. The expanded statement accompanying
the bill raises concerns about the level of resources the government of Iraq has so far
dedicated to assisting Iraqi refugees and IDPs. The final June 30 version of the bill
provides $350 million for MRA in the FY2009 supplemental, nearly 50% more than
requested, to respond to urgent humanitarian and refugee admissions requirements,
including assistance for refugees from Iraq.
For FY2008, the June 30-enacted version of H.R. 2642 includes $220 million
for IDA for urgent humanitarian crises worldwide, including countries affected by
the ongoing food crisis, but does not specify an amount for Iraq. For FY2009, the
bill includes $200 million for IDA for ongoing humanitarian needs worldwide and
specifies that some of these funds may be allocated to assist IDPs in Iraq and be used
in response to the international food crisis.
34 United States Department of State, “Latest Figures on Iraqi Refugee Admissions and
Humanitarian Aid,” June 3, 2008.
U.S. Refugee Program and Iraqi Refugees35
The admission of refugees to the United States and their resettlement here are36
authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. Under the
INA, a refugee is typically a person who is outside his or her country and who is
unable or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of
persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular
social group, or political opinion. Refugees are processed and admitted to the United
States from abroad.
The Department of State (DOS) handles overseas processing of refugees, which
is conducted through a system of three priorities for admission. Priority One (P-1)
covers compelling protection cases and individuals for whom no durable solution
exists, who are referred to the U.S. refugee program by the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy, or a designated
nongovernmental organization (NGO). Iraqis, like all nationalities, are eligible for
Priority Two (P-2) covers groups of special humanitarian concern to the United
States. It includes specific groups within certain nationalities, clans, or ethnic
groups. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 200837 specifies
certain groups of Iraqis that are to be processed under Priority Two. These new
Priority Two groups include Iraqis who are or were employed by the U.S.
government in Iraq; Iraqis who are or were employed in Iraq by either a media or
nongovernmental organization headquartered in the United States, or an entity
closely associated with the U.S. mission in Iraq that has received U.S. government
funding; and Iraqis who are members of a persecuted religious or minority group and
have close family members in the United States.
Priority Three (P-3) comprises family reunification cases involving spouses,
unmarried children under age 21, and parents of persons who were admitted to the
United States as refugees or granted asylum. Iraqis are among the nationalities
eligible for P-3 processing in FY2008. The FY2008 National Defense Authorization
Act further requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of
Homeland Security, to establish an in-country refugee processing program for Iraqis.
35 This section was written by Andorra Bruno, Specialist in Immigration Policy, Domestic
Social Policy Division.
36 Act of June 27, 1952, ch. 477; 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq. The Refugee Act (P.L. 96-212,
March 17, 1980) amended the INA to establish procedures for the admission of refugees to
the United States. For additional information on the U.S. refugee program, see CRS Report
RL31269, Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy, by Andorra Bruno.
37 P.L. 110-181, January 28, 2008. The Iraqi refugee and special immigrant provisions in
P.L. 110-181 are similar to those in the stand-alone Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act (S. 1651) and
in the Senate-passed version of an earlier FY2008 National Defense Authorization bill (H.R.
All refugee applicants are checked through DOS’s Consular Lookout and
Support System (CLASS).38 In addition, DOS must obtain a Security Advisory
Opinion (SAO) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on certain applicants. In
the SAO process, additional databases are checked for information on the individual.
Iraqi refugees are subject to enhanced security screening procedures established by
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Individuals who are preliminarily
determined to qualify for a processing priority are presented to DHS’s U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an in-person interview. USCIS
makes determinations about whether individuals are eligible for refugee status and
are otherwise admissible to the United States.
Each year, the President submits a report to Congress, known as the consultation
document, which contains the Administration’s proposed refugee ceiling and regional
allocations for the upcoming fiscal year. Following congressional consultations on
the proposal, the President issues a Presidential Determination setting the refugee
numbers for that year. The FY2008 worldwide refugee ceiling is 80,000. It includes
70,000 admissions numbers allocated among the regions of the world and an
unallocated reserve of 10,000 numbers that can be used if, and where, a need for
additional refugee slots develops. The FY2008 allocation for the Near East/South
Asia region, which includes Iraq, is 28,000. According to the FY2008 consultation
document, this allocation includes primarily vulnerable Iraqis, Bhutanese, and Iranian
religious and ethnic minorities.39 Admissions of Iraqi refugees to the United States
totaled 198 in FY2005, 202 in FY2006, 1,608 in FY2007, and 6,463 in FY2008
through June 30, 2008.40 It is the Administration’s goal to admit 12,000 Iraqi
refugees in FY2008.41
DOS and DHS have established new entities and positions to address Iraqi
refugee issues. In February 2007, DOS established the Iraq Refugee and Internally
Displaced Persons Task Force to coordinate refugee and internally displaced persons
(IDP) assistance to the region and refugee resettlement. The task force includes
officials from DOS, USAID and DHS, and is charged with “focus[ing] the State
Department’s coordination with other USG [U.S. government] agencies, the UN
[United Nations], and other stakeholders.”42 In September 2007, the Secretary of
38 CLASS contains records on people ineligible to receive visas, including individuals who
are suspected or known terrorists and their associates or who are associated with suspected
or known terrorist organizations.
39 U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2008: Report
to the Congress, p. 46.
40 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Refugee
Processing Center, admissions reports at [http://www.wrapsnet.org/Reports/Admissions
41 For a June 2008 status report on Iraqi refugee admissions, see U.S. Department of State,
“Latest Developments in the Iraqi Refugee Admissions Program,” briefing, June 3, 2008,
42 U.S. Department of State, “Secretary of State Establishes New Iraq Refugee and Internally
State appointed Ambassador James B. Foley as the Senior Coordinator for Iraqi
Refugee Issues. According to a DOS press statement, “Ambassador Foley will work
with the Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force and other
government agencies to enhance [DOS’s] response to this important issue.”43 Also
in September, the Secretary of Homeland Security appointed Lori Scialabba as a
Senior Advisor for Iraqi Refugee Affairs.
Beyond the formal refugee program, other immigration mechanisms have been
established to facilitate the admission to the United States of Iraqis who have worked
for or been closely associated with the U.S. government, including the U.S. military.
Provisions enacted in 2006 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for
FY2006, as subsequently amended,44 authorize DHS to grant legal permanent
resident status as special immigrants to certain nationals of Iraq and Afghanistan who
have worked directly with the U.S. Armed Forces, or under Chief of Mission
authority, as translators or interpreters, and their spouses and children. This program
is capped at 500 aliens (excluding spouses and children) for FY2007 and FY2008,
and at 50 aliens (excluding spouses and children) for subsequent years.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, in addition to
making changes to the refugee program discussed above, broadens DHS’s authority
to provide special immigrant status to certain nationals of Iraq. It also grants the
Secretary of State the authority to provide such status in consultation with the
Secretary of Homeland Security. Under this law, as amended,45 Iraqi nationals are
eligible for special immigrant status if they are or were employed by or on behalf of
the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for not less than one year;
provided documented valuable service to the U.S. government; and have experienced
“an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of the alien’s employment by the United
States government.” This special immigrant program is capped at 5,000 principal
aliens (excluding spouses and children) for each of fiscal years 2008 through 2012.
The National Defense Authorization Act requires the Secretary of State, in
consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to establish or use existing
refugee processing mechanisms in Iraq and elsewhere in the region for processing
Iraqis under the new special immigrant program. Furthermore, the law makes Iraqi
special immigrants eligible for the same resettlement assistance, entitlement
programs, and other benefits as refugees for up to eight months.
Displaced Persons Task Force,” press statement, February 5, 2007, at
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ r / pa/ pr s / ps/ 2007/ f e br uar y/ 80090.ht m] .
43 U.S. Department of State, “New Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues,” press
statement, September 19, 2007, at [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/sep/92477.htm].
44 P.L. 109-163, January 6, 2006; P.L. 110-28, May 25, 2007; P.L. 110-36, June 15, 2007.
45 P.L. 110-242, June 3, 2008.
The 110th Congress has held hearings pertaining to Iraqi refugees and IDPs and
the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States, and a number of related bills
have been introduced. Legislation enacted by the 110th Congress with provisions on
Iraqi refugees and IDPs includes the following:
P.L. 110-28 (H.R. 2206), U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina
Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007, May 25, 2007.
P.L. 110-36 (S. 1104), A bill to increase the number of Iraqi and Afghani
translators and interpreters who may be admitted to the United States as special
immigrants, June 15, 2007.
P.L. 110-161 (H.R. 2764), Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, December
P.L. 110-181 (H.R. 4986), National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
P.L. 110-242 (S. 2829), A bill to make technical corrections to section 1244 of
the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, June 3, 2008.
Issues for Congress
Voluntary Returns to Iraq
Some argue that the returns (mainly by refugees) to Iraq in late 2007 were due
to improved security. Others contend that it was more about politics and pressure felt
by the Iraqi government to demonstrate progress and sustain confidence in reduced
violence and by the United States to show the critical and positive impact of the troop
surge. UNHCR has stated that it does not consider current conditions in Iraq to be
conducive for a voluntary returns program due primarily to concerns about security
and protection for returnees and the lack of capacity on the ground to implement a
returns program. Reports indicate up to 70% of those who did return to Baghdad
could not resettle in their own homes, either because someone else was living there
or because the ethnic composition of the neighborhood made it unsafe. Some experts
do not believe the Iraqi MoDM has the resources and competency to be effective and
that preparation and coordination mechanisms need to be put in place for potential
It is reported that some Iraqis have been forced to return to Iraq. For example,
Iraqis arrested in Lebanon were given the option of “voluntary deportation,”and
could choose to either stay in jail or return to Iraq.46 Reportedly, countries in Europe
have sent Iraqis back, mainly to the Kurdish-controlled north, which has been
regarded by some as sufficiently stable for returns.47 However, while UNHCR and
others in the humanitarian community view Iraq as currently inhospitable to a returns
program, the problem highlights the difficult balance countries need to strike in being
open to asylum seekers, fulfilling their obligations, and helping those who want to
resettle in third countries with consideration of the particular status of those applying,
the resources within the country’s communities, and the need for burdensharing
between states on overall resettlement programs.
Capacity of the Iraqi Government
Some of Iraq’s neighbors have quietly expressed their displeasure over a
perceived lack of support from the Iraqi government for its own citizens who have
fled abroad. Some officials and aid workers have asserted that Iraq’s $25 million
pledge in 2007 (and delays in payment of this pledge until mid 2008) to assist Iraqi
refugees in neighboring states was an indication of the Maliki government’s
unwillingness to seriously assist its own people. Other experts believe that there may
be a sectarian dimension to the majority Shiite Iraqi government’s behavior; over
60% of Iraqis in Jordan and Syria are Sunni Muslims.48 In the June 2008 FY2008
and FY2009 emergency supplemental, Congress raised concerns about the level of
resources the government of Iraq has so far dedicated to assisting Iraqi refugees and
IDPs. Other experts have suggested that the MoDM lacks capacity on the ground
and its ability to respond to the displacement crisis must be addressed.
Increased International Funding
UNHCR and other experts say that more international aid in the form of
contributions and program development is required for host countries, domestic
NGOs, and for organizations providing assistance, such as UNHCR. It is often
difficult for international NGOs to register in these countries, and greater access
needs to be negotiated. UNHCR is short of funds and cannot provide adequate
assistance or protection to Iraqi refugees.
In its findings, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) refers specifically to the dramatic
increase in population displacement that could cause further destabilization both in
Iraq and the region and contribute to a humanitarian crisis. Specifically the ISG
suggests that the United States should “take the lead in funding assistance requests
from the UNHCR, and other humanitarian agencies.” (Recommendation 66).49 Some
argue that bringing pressure to bear on other donors to participate in these relief
efforts, either by funding UNHCR’s current supplemental appeal for Iraqi refugees
46 Migration Policy Institute, The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: The Need for Action, January 2008
47 Amnesty International, “Iraq — Rhetoric and Reality: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis,” June
48 See, “Iraqis in Jordan: Their Numbers and Characteristics,” Norwegian Research Institute
Fafo. In Syria, UNHCR estimates that 67% of registered Iraqi refugees are Sunni Muslims.
49 The Iraq Study Group Report, p. 58.
or by providing bilateral funding to host countries with specific allocations to Iraqi
refugees, could make a measurable difference in the humanitarian situation
developing on the ground.
U.S. Humanitarian Response in Iraq
Determining the immediate steps the United States can take with regard to Iraqi
IDPs in particular (and in a more general sense to the Iraqi refugees) and how other
international partners could be involved may prove to be critical in the next phase of
the U.S. Iraq strategy. Iraq’s internal population displacement appears to have
created a humanitarian crisis that may be beyond the current capacity on the ground.
Difficult decisions lie ahead including identifying who should be in charge of any
comprehensive relief effort, bringing together key players, and working out a
coordination strategy. Whether or not the MoDM has the resources and competence
to be effective remains to be seen in the long term, but in the immediate
circumstance, it is reportedly overwhelmed. It is not clear what role the U.S. military
might play in the humanitarian response on a local level in Iraq and whether the
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) may be an immediate resource to consider.
Competing Aid and Budget Priorities
Amid efforts to tackle rising U.S. budget deficits by, among other measures,
slowing or reducing discretionary spending or finding the resources to sustain U.S.
aid pledges may be difficult. When disasters require immediate emergency relief, the
Administration may fund pledges by depleting most worldwide disaster contingency
accounts. In order to respond to future humanitarian crises, however, these resources
would need to be replenished. If not replenished, U.S. capacity to respond to other
emergencies could be curtailed. Donor fatigue is also an issue, with some experts
concerned about funding priorities and the ongoing need for resources for other
In the case of Iraq, with a humanitarian crisis at hand, the question of whether
sufficient funds have been requested by the Administration for a potential crisis
remains. Some are also concerned about whether the U.S. government should
continue to fund the humanitarian needs of displaced Iraqis through supplemental
appropriations. With a likely budgetary gap at hand, some believe the United States
has a greater responsibility to lead the way on committing funds to address the needs
of Iraqi refugees and IDPs. They argue that if the United States increased its funding
and resettlement numbers, this would encourage other countries in the region, and
more broadly in the international community, to do the same. For broader political
reasons, finding a balance on burdensharing with the international community may
be unique in the Iraq context.
Links to Broader Iraq Policy
With respect to the possible repatriation of Iraqi refugees, the refugee
admissions report to Congress states: “It is hoped that significant numbers of Iraqi
refugees located throughout the Middle East and Europe will soon be able to return
home, although the security situation will remain an important consideration in
repatriation.”50 While reduced violence is likely to enable more returns, it is not clear
whether there are policy implications for refugee resettlement at present, and
whether, when viewed as a temporary situation, the obligation by the United States
to resettle Iraqi refugees becomes less pressing. In addition, there is some concern
that if, among those determined to be most vulnerable and in need, proportionally
more Christian Iraqis are resettled in the United States than Muslim Iraqis, this could
contribute to the perception of preference granted to groups of one religion over
The question of granting preference to vulnerable Iraqis and Iraqis who are at
risk because they have worked for, or been closely associated with, the U.S.
government, including the U.S. military, may also have unforseen consequences.
Some have questioned whether it may create resentment among Iraqis seeking
resettling who do not qualify for preferential treatment. Others have asked whether
Iraqis will see “collaboration” with the United States as a means to resettle in the
United States and therefore will be eager to take advantage of any opportunity to do
50 Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2007: Report to the Congress, p. 40.
Appendix. Iraq’s History of Displacement51
Table 4. Refugees in Iraq, Prior to 2003
Country of OriginNumber
Palestiniansup to 22,500
Table 5. Iraq Refugees Returning to Iraq, 2002-2006
Table 6. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq
IDPs (old caseload, prior to 2003)1,200,000
IDPs (since February 2006)1,500,000
51 Data from UNHCR, “Update on the Iraq Situation,” November 2006 and telephone
conversation with USAID, OFDA, March 21, 2007; and discussions with OFDA and
UNHCR August 2008.