WASHINGTON–Representatives Betty McCollum (MN-04), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Adam Schiff (CA-29), and Tim Walz (MN-01) spearheaded a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging action to ensure the well-being of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees in Jordan and Syria.
The letter, which 16 other Members of Congress have signed, urgently requests U.S. assistance to help resettle Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees to Armenia. Additional resources from the United States will allow Armenia to reach more Iraqi Armenian Christians with essential resources as well as the opportunity to begin a new life in a safe and secure environment.
According to a recent press release from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iraqi refugees, both inside and outside of the country, are facing deteriorating conditions while international concern is slowly declining. The attacks on Iraqi Christian refugees, in particular, are a constant source of insecurity. UNHCR works to protect and relocate refuges, while helping them restart their lives in safer areas. Two years ago, UNHCR-Armenia helped several large groups of refugees resettle in Armenia.
The Armenian government already made a generous commitment to UNHCR. This includes the offer of all Iraqi Armenian refugees the opportunity for citizenship, participation in UNHCR’s Iraqi resettlement program, and resources to help refugees rebuild their lives. Armenia has effectively delivered on these commitments over the past two years.
“It is in the interest of the U.S. that Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees be provided the opportunity to start a new life in safety and peace,” said Representative McCollum, who traveled to Syria and met with Iraqi refugees in 2006. “The Armenian government’s offer to receive refugees is very generous, and I believe the U.S. should provide the humanitarian support necessary to ensure their successful relocation and integration into Armenian society.”
“Life for these refugees is difficult and the assistance provided by UNHCR provides relief that is critical to these families,” said Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06). “With the commitment of the government of Armenia and the success that past funds have yielded in settling refugees in Armenia it is important for us to continue and increase the funds being allocated to Armenia. I urge our continued financial support and continued involvement in this pursuit.”
“Conditions for Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees are becoming increasingly desperate at the same time that international support for the vulnerable population is dwindling,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). “We urge the Obama Administration to commit additional funds to UNHCR to sustain the momentum we have built to help these refugees resettle and rebuild their lives in Armenia, providing a cost-effective and regional solution for families who might otherwise seek resettlement within our borders.”
Below is the text of the letter:
May 14, 2010
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We are writing to urge the Obama Administration to make a commitment of funds to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist in the resettlement of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees from Syria and Jordan to Armenia. It is our understanding that the State Department is in the process of formulating the Administration’s response in support of UNHCR’s 2010 Global Appeal for Iraq. We feel strongly that it is essential that an initial and specific U.S. commitment is made to meeting the needs of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees.
According to a March 30, 2010 UNHCR press release, conditions for Iraqi refugees both inside and outside of Iraq are becoming increasingly desperate at the very time that international concern appears to be fading. “The dwindling media interest in Iraqi refugees,” the UNHCR says, “is not matched by a decline in the scale of the problem.” With a planned U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of 2011, dwindling international support for Iraqi refugees, and the campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians continuing unabated, the U.S. must fulfill its obligation to this vulnerable population.
As you know, the State Department’s 2008 allocation of $1 million to UNHCR-Armenia has enabled more than one thousand Iraqi refugees to begin to rebuild their lives via resettlement in Armenia. It has been a cost-effective and regional solution for a group that might otherwise seek resettlement in the United States.
UNHCR’s “Regional Response Plan for Iraqi Refugees” released in January 2010 identifies hundreds of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan. The number of refugees in Syria, the primary asylum destination for Armenian Christians fleeing Iraq, is known to be significantly larger. Of the more than two million refugees who have fled Iraq, only a small portion, less than 20 percent, have been registered by UNHCR thus far. Since hopes for successful repatriation and reintegration in Iraq have failed to materialize it is certain that the need for resettlement of Iraqi Armenian refugees will persist for the foreseeable future.
It is our understanding that the Government of Armenia has made a formal commitment to U.N. High Commissioner Antonio Guterres to: offer all Iraqi Armenian refugees a track to citizenship; formally participate in UNHCR’s Iraqi resettlement program; and make land and facilities available for refugees from Iraq to rebuild their lives. Armenia has, in fact, delivered on these promises substantially over the last two years.
The U.S. commitment of additional funds to UNHCR will allow UNHCR in Armenia to extend its assistance to Iraqi Armenian Christians while allowing for an accelerated resettlement of additional refugees from Syria and Jordan to Armenia.
Again, we urge the Obama Administration to sustain the momentum of what UNHCR, the United States, and Armenia have already accomplished on behalf of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees.
Raúl M. Grijalva
Charles A. Gonzalez
Michael E. Capuano
James P. Mcgovern
Charles B. Rangel