Bush Administration Utterly Callous Toward Iraqi Refugees

The Progressive, July 27, 2007

By Amitabh Pal,

New definition of chutzpah: You send a country to hell, and then you refuse to assist the millions of people you have caused to suffer.

The Bush Administration is showing the utmost callousness toward the more than two million Iraqis rendered nationless due to its misadventure. A recent conference in Amman, Jordan, to deal with the situation only highlights the crisis. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqi refugees live in Syria, and 750,000 in Jordan. (An additional two million are internal refugees—out of a population of twenty-eight million—making this a catastrophe of truly staggering proportions.)

Iraq’s neighbors, economically ill-equipped to cope with the massive population flows, are having to bear the brunt. The fact that Syria is hosting, by far, the most refugees is made even more interesting by the fact that it is on the official enemies list and has been repeatedly accused by the Bush Administration of having a negative role to play in the war. Now, the refugees have often not been treated well in these countries, but at least they have managed to find asylum there.

In contrast, what has been the sum total of Bush Administration’s efforts to alleviate the distress it has helped create? Almost zero. Since the start of the war, in four long years, the United States has allowed in just 701 refugees. The grand number of 202 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States in 2006, while in the first half of this year, the State Department let in sixty-eight. You read those figures right. A single town (Sodertalje: population 60,000) in Sweden (a country not exactly responsible for creating the crisis) took in last year twice as many Iraqi refugees as did the whole of the United States (population 300 million). The situation would be laughable if the effects of the Bush Administration’s pitilessness weren’t so heartrending.

In fact, the Bush Administration has limited itself almost completely to aiding the entry into the United States of Iraqis working directly with the U.S. forces in that country. This lame endeavor has also been embroiled in snafus and security checks, with even (hold your hats!) Administration officials admitting “that there remained a gap between words and action on the issue,” The New York Times states.

The consequences of inaction are grave, as a recent Amnesty International report notes.

“This is threatening to create an humanitarian crisis that could engulf the region unless concerted international action is taken now,” says Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

The numbers are so staggering that the individual stories get lost in the thicket. Nir Rosen (a contributor, I must add, to The Progressive) has a superb recent cover feature in The New York Times Magazine that lays bare many of these tales. He encounters fighters who have ironically been forced out of their country due to the violence. He tells of an Iraqi doctor named Lujai, who fled to Syria along with her family after Shiite militias killed her husband. He encounters in Cairo Muhammad Abu Rawan, who has found refuge there from the endless civil strife in Iraq. And he comes across hundreds of Iraqi Palestinians who are stranded in tents in no man’s land on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Juxtaposed with these accounts are the heartless words of John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations, who is unwilling to admit even the tiniest iota of U.S. responsibility for the situation.

“Our obligation,” he tells Rosen from his air-conditioned office at the American Enterprise Institute, “was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.”

Bolton doesn’t think that the Bush Administration should even give aid to the refugees. “Helping [them] flies in the face of received logic,” says one of the architects of the Iraq War. “You don’t want to encourage the refugees to stay. You want them to go home.”

His ex-colleagues still in the current Administration share his notions, even if they can’t afford to be as blunt as he is. “The problem is one caused by the repressive regime” of Saddam Hussein, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, informs Rosen.

The complete lack of a moral center in this crowd is incredible.

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