U.S. must do more to aid Iraqi refugees, prelates tell Rice

WASHINGTON – Just back from a trip to the Middle East, a U.S. cardinal and a bishop are pressing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do more to help Iraqi refugees.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., urged Rice in a July 26 letter to do more to resettle Iraqi refugees in the United States and to provide additional financial, medical and other types of support for refugees in other countries.
“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 2 million Iraqi refugees in the region,” their letter said.
Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop DiMarzio, both board members of Catholic Relief Services and both consultants to the bishops’ Committee on Migration, recently toured refugee settlements in Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon with a delegation from the International Catholic Migration Commission and CRS.
“Without a heightened commitment from our nation and others, we are fearful that these countries will no longer welcome and protect these refugees,” their letter to Rice said, “particularly if the security situation in Iraq deteriorates and more Iraqis flee their homes.”
They said the countries lack sufficient funding to meet refugees’ basic needs. Many families have spent their savings and are dependent upon the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, nongovernmental organizations and host governments to survive.
Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop DiMarzio said they found many people in need of medical care, as well as help dealing with severe psychological and emotional trauma.
“Children are particularly vulnerable,” they said. Besides physical and psychological ailments, access to education remains a major problem. “The situation of children is made worse because many are compelled to work illegally in order to support their families.”
The letter also asked Rice to do more to resettle Iraqi refugees in third countries, including the United States. Some refugees, particularly those who have worked with the U.S. government or contractors in Iraq have been targeted for retaliation and are unlikely to be able to return to their homeland, they said.
They said they were encouraged by the State Department’s commitment to process 7,000 Iraqi refugees for admission to United States by the end of the 2007 fiscal year, but were disappointed in the few arrivals to date.
Anastasia Brown, interim director of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that as of June 30, 133 Iraqi refugees had arrived in the United States. Another 1,270 had been approved for admission and about 2,050 were ready to be interviewed. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“After our visit, we see that even the 7,000 refugee resettlement slots to which the United States has committed is insufficient to meet the need,” said Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop DiMarzio. “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.”
They said that as the leader of the coalition force in Iraq “the United States must show leadership with regard to Iraqi refugees.”
“Without our leadership, it is unlikely that the international community will fill the void. We urge you to bring this critical need to the attention of the president and act as soon as possible to protect these vulnerable refugees,” they said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.