The U.S. Catholic bishops are calling on the Bush administration to work more urgently toward the responsible transition to end the war in Iraq and to increase aid for Iraqi refugees.
In a July 26 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn also noted that the U.S. government has not been processing Iraqi refugees for resettlement in this country at the rate that they pledged.
The prelates voiced their concern following a mission to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to view the situation of refugees forced to flee their war-torn nation. They traveled with a delegation that included representatives from the International Catholic Migration Commission and Catholic Relief Services.
“It was clear that the countries we visited are in dire need of additional support from the United States and the international community in order to provide safe haven to the almost two million Iraqi refugees in the region,” they said. “Without a heightened commitment from our nation and others, we are fearful that these countries will no longer welcome and protect these refugees, particularly if the security situation in Iraq deteriorates and more Iraqis flee their homes.”
The prelates highlighted “lack of sufficient funding to ensure that the basic needs of refugees and their families are being met.” They noted the “need of medical care, which is not readily available.”
“Children are particularly vulnerable,” they said. “Many of them suffer physical and psychological ailments from the conflict. In addition, access to education for children remains a major problem. The situation of children is made worse because many are compelled to work illegally in order to support their families.”
Many of these refugees have expended their savings and are dependent upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nongovernmental organizations, or the host government to survive.
“While we were encouraged by the State Department’s initial commitment to process 7,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of 2007, we are disappointed in the low number of arrivals at this point in time,” the bishops wrote.
The bishops also pointed out that the 7,000 refugee resettlement slots to which the U.S. committed is insufficient to meet the need.
“We urge you to do all that you can to ensure that you reach your initial processing goal of 7,000 as soon as possible and to increase significantly the number of arrivals for Fiscal Year 2008, so that these vulnerable persons find protection,” they wrote.