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17 April 2007

United States Reaffirms Commitment To Assist Displaced Iraqis

Administration seeks to facilitate immigration of Iraqis working for U.S.

Washington – The United States pledged its continued commitment to assist Iraqis fleeing sectarian violence and urged other countries to demonstrate a similar commitment during the April 17 opening session of a conference in Geneva on the humanitarian needs of Iraq refugees and internally displaced persons.

“The displacement of almost 4 million Iraqis, both within Iraq and in neighboring countries, is a humanitarian concern that requires coordinated action by the international community,” Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky told the conference delegates from more than 60 nations.  “The United States stands ready to continue its strong support, and we ask both traditional donors and new donor countries to be generous in their responses.”

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 1.9 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq and up to 2 million others have fled abroad.

Dobriansky praised the international organizations that have taken the lead in addressing the problem, including UNHCR, the conference’s sponsor, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration and various nongovernmental organizations.  She also praised the Iraqi government for demonstrating its willingness to help displaced Iraqi citizens both inside and outside Iraq.

Dobriansky recognized the contributions of countries that are hosting displaced Iraqis, primarily Syria and Jordan, and urged them to keep their borders open to those fleeing violence.

UNHCR Antonio Guterres paid tribute to the generosity of these host countries and urged the international community to show solidarity with them as their economies and social infrastructure are strained by the population influx.

“The dramatic needs of the Iraqis and the challenges faced by host countries require an urgent and meaningful expression of solidarity by the international community ... as well as effective action to share the humanitarian burden,” he said. “That includes financial, economic and technical support, but also expanded resettlement opportunities for the most vulnerable. The generosity of host countries must be matched by that of the entire international community.”

According to UNHCR, more than 1 million Iraqis have sought refuge in Syria and as many as 750,000 are in Jordan.  Others have fled to Lebanon, Egypt, Iran and Turkey.

Guterres said the best solution to the problem would be for Iraqis to return home voluntarily when conditions allow, but he added that the humanitarian crisis can be resolved only through political reconciliation.

Dobriansky echoed Guterres’ sentiment that voluntary return is the best solution for the vast majority of refugees, but she said the United States is expanding its immigration operations to take in some of those Iraqis for whom voluntary return is not a viable option.  She included among these female-headed households, the elderly, the disabled, unaccompanied minors, ethnic and religious minorities, and Iraqis who face threats because of their work with the United States or other foreign countries.

Dobriansky announced that the Bush administration has proposed legislation to the U.S. Congress to modify the special immigrant visa program so that some foreign service nationals would be able to apply for immigration after only three years of work with the U.S. government.  Normally foreign nationals working in U.S. embassies must serve 15 years before becoming eligible for immigration.

She also noted that the two houses of Congress are working on legislation to extend the special immigrant visa program to 1,500 interpreters working with U.S. military forces and government agencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guterres said the Geneva conference is only a first step in what he hopes will be “a sustained dialogue and comprehensive, coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.”

“Almost 4 million Iraqis are watching us today,” he said. “Their needs are as obvious as the moral imperative to help.  All of us – representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society – are now compelled to act.”

For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update and Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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