According to an annual U.N. report, Global Trends, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq produced nearly half of the world’s refugees and dispossessed people in 2008. The U.N. refugee agency also reported that developing nations carry the greatest burden, hosting an estimated four-fifths of all worldwide refugees.
Last July, then-Sen. and presumptive nominee Barack Obama wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times that his administration would “commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.” Under the previous administration, the United States accepted about 13,000 Iraqi refugees, with the vast majority given entrance during Bush’s final year in office. This year alone, the goal is to accept close to 17,000 Iraqis.
But that number is minuscule when compared to the actual size of the region’s refugee population. Advocacy groups, including Refugees International and Human Rights First, maintain that the past Bush -- and current Obama -- refugee policies are insufficient. Recommendations include a U.S.-led international effort to resettle up to 85,000 “extremely vulnerable” displaced Iraqis and increased funding to support admitted refugees.
Advocates are also watching to see if Obama makes good on his $2 billion pledge. According to Human Rights First refugee policy analyst Amelia Templeton, positive signs include the administration’s request of $1.48 billion from Congress for the 2010 Migration and Refugee Assistance Account. Bush never actively sought such funding, instead relying on Congress’ emergency war supplemental appropriations to deal with Iraq's refugee crisis. The current administration is attempting to “mainstream” these costs in official budget requests. Less reassuring are the “egregiously underfunded” U.S. resettlement agencies, Templeton says.
Asawin Suebsaeng is a summer 2009 Prospect intern.