FEATURE: Little relief in sight for millions of displaced Iraqis

No going back

The international response to the refugee crisis was extremely weak until recently, and it’s not at all clear that it is sufficient now. In June the International Organization for Migration, one of the main American NGOs, issued an appeal for $85 million over two years, but it has not received even half of that amount. The UN, for its part, has significantly expanded its presence in the region. Since 2006 United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) increased its budget from $23 million to $123 million. UNHCR has also issued a common appeal with UNICEF to raise $129 million to fund education for refugees. Other UN agencies have become more active, including the World Food Program. The United States traditionally funds approximately 25 percent of UNHCR appeals across the world. In Iraq it is doing the same, responding to this crisis the way it would to any other. But this is not any other crisis. It is an American-made humanitarian catastrophe. And the presence or absence of U.S. troops committed to a military mission for however many months or years is irrelevant to that problem.

One explanation for why the international community has been slow to act is that is has been waiting for U.S. leadership. But for the U.S. to acknowledge the size and seriousness of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq would be to admit that the recent troop “surge” is not working. According to a senior UN official, “the U.S. government doesn’t want to admit there is a refugee problem because it is a sign of failure.” It would also mean acknowledging that a massive process of ethnic cleansing has taken place under the watch of the U.S.-backed government—indeed, that it has been perpetrated by the Iraqi government’s own security forces. Iraq’s Christian and Sabean minorities were decimated and have left for good. Baghdad, now cleansed and controlled by Shias, is irrevocably a Shia city, and its former Sunni-majority neighborhoods are ghost towns. [complete article]

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