“Two eyes are better than a thousand reports.”
This was what Kurdish leaders told us when we met with them in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in June -- and we agreed. We had traveled together to Iraq to ensure that U.S. government humanitarian programs and policies are still responding to the needs of displaced people on the ground. We were concerned about Iraqis who had fled violence years ago as refugees and then returned, and those who remain displaced in their own country. We also wanted to assess the welfare of Syrians who have fled into Iraq to escape fighting in their country.
Starting in 2003, the U.S. government has provided $2.6 billion in humanitarian assistance to displaced Iraqis, getting much-needed food, healthcare, education, and basic economic support to help rebuild their lives. We have also welcomed more than 100,000 vulnerable Iraqis to the United States through our refugee resettlement and Special Immigrant Visa programs. However, needs are still great. An estimated 1.1 million Iraqis have been displaced inside Iraq since 2006 and significant challenges must be overcome before they can return home, including working to ensure they have a safe place to live and can rebuild their livelihoods. These obstacles are more significant today than during our visit in June, as a recent increase in violence in Iraq has continued to displace Iraqis and add to these challenges. Many more people remain displaced in neighboring countries, nearly 125,000 of which are registered as refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Many needs remain unmet, but there is some notable progress on the ground. The number of people returning home reached an all-time high of over 300,000 in 2012, and though the recent violence in Iraq has slowed the pace of returns, more than 40,000 Iraqis have returned home since January 2013. When making the decision whether and where to move, most Iraqis express the same kind of desires anyone would want in such circumstances – a job; a home; access to schools, healthcare, and other services for their families; and a safe, secure community. So, we have tailored our programs to help meet these needs. The Community Revitalization Program provides livelihood training -- ranging from beekeeping to electrical installation -- so people can develop marketable skills, pursue new vocations or businesses, and provide for their families.
Unfortunately, far too many Iraqis remain unable to return home. We met with some families who are still displaced and living in an informal settlement on public land where they are under constant threat of eviction. For those who remain displaced, U.S. government-funded projects aim to meet their immediate needs, such as shelter repair and clean water. These projects also help residents of those communities organize and advocate for themselves with local authorities and work toward long-term solutions.
Our programs help those whom they are able to reach, but the Iraqi Government will ultimately be the key player in bringing resources to bear to help its displaced people return home and rebuild their lives. The U.S. government works closely with the Government of Iraq to encourage the inclusion of displaced Iraqis in Iraqi government programs, policies, and priorities to the greatest extent possible. Looking ahead, the U.S. government remains firmly committed to assisting Iraq as it takes on increasing responsibility for its displaced citizens. Our efforts and support remain vital to ensuring that Iraq shoulders this responsibility and that displaced people have a place in their nation’s future.
Update -- Related Content: U.S. Reaches its Refugee Admissions Target for the First Time Since 1980