Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
December 16, 2009

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I want to report to you on my visit last month to the Middle East.

In Iraq, where more than 1.5 million Iraqis are believed to have been displaced internally since 2006, I traveled with Samantha Power, the NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights who is also the White House coordinator for Iraqi refugee issues. We met with the Iraqi coordinator for refugees and displaced persons, Ambassador Sadiq Rikabi, and Mohammad Salman, the head of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Implementation and Follow-up Committee on National Reconciliation, and discussed the broad range of challenges related to return and reintegration of internally displaced Iraqis as well as the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. Along with several European donors whom we had invited to join for part of the mission, we then visited Diyala province – the focus of a Government of Iraq initiative on reconciliation and return of refugees/IDPs -- and spoke with returnees and community representatives.

Date: 12/17/2009 Description: Many buildings in Diyala province were completely destroyed in recent fighting, including this one in the village we visited. © State Dept Image

Many buildings in Diyala province were completely destroyed in recent fighting, including this one in the village we visited. UNHCR is working to help the local community to rebuild their homes.

The Iraqi government has made some progress in communicating a sense of commitment to the returns issue – for example, they have indicated they will substantially increase funding for their Ministry of Displacement and Migration (which provides assistance to returnees), and a joint statement we issued during the visit provides a very useful guidepost for progress. (The statement is attached and hyperlinked at http://iraq.usembassy.gov/pr_11142009.html) But there is much more that must be done to create an environment more conducive to return and reintegration, and we will be working closely with Iraqi counterparts to achieve greater progress. We will also work closely with other donors and international organizations, both to support and to organize more effectively the international assistance effort. For example, just last week, Samantha and I hosted a meeting for some 20 potential donor governments to encourage their enhanced engagement.

Iraq is at an important moment in its recent history, with great opportunities for the promotion of democratic development and economic well-being. Voluntary return and reintegration of displaced Iraqis will be critical to that well-being, and we will continue to focus our energy and resources in support of these efforts.

Of course, we cannot ask more of others if we are not prepared to sustain our own efforts. Happily, the recent Congressional 2010 foreign affairs appropriation will enable us to continue to support generously assistance to displaced Iraqis, as well as resettlement of those Iraqis for whom return will not be a good option. Over the past two years, we have resettled more than 36,000 Iraqis, and we expect to approve at least 17,000 for resettlement in 2010.

While Samantha stayed on in Iraq for several days, I traveled to Jordan and Syria. Both governments have made substantial efforts to address the needs of large refugee populations, and we were eager to explore ways that the United States could continue to assist vulnerable communities. In Jordan, our PRM team met with both Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, inaugurated a new school for young Palestinian girls run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and attended the annual Advisory Commission meeting of UNRWA. I also met with then Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Jafar Hassan; I thanked the government of Jordan for its continued willingness to support the needs of refugees and discussed ways we might work jointly to further ease the circumstances of Iraqis in Jordan.Date: 12/17/2009 Description: Assistant Secretary Schwartz speaking with students at the UNRWA-run Zarqa Girls School new science lab. © State Dept Image

Chatting with students in the new science lab at the UNRWA-run Zarqa Girls School.

In Syria, we also visited Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, and met with local officials, international organization representatives and NGOs. I had a good session with Syrian Vice Minister Faisal Miqdad, during which we discussed ways to enhance joint efforts to meet the needs of refugees, as well as to ensure effective access for international and non-governmental organizations that are seeking to help these communities.

Date: 12/17/2009 Description: Assistant Secretary Schwartz discussing issues of concern with Iraqi refugees at UNHCR's refugee processing center in Douma, Syria. © State Dept Image

Discussing issues of concern with Iraqi refugees at UNHCR’s refugee processing center in Douma, Syria

Throughout the visit, we sought to communicate strong U.S. support for both Iraqi and Palestinian well-being, reflected in generous provision of humanitarian assistance to these two communities in 2009. In 2009, the U.S. government provided about $387 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraqis (in addition to our support for resettlement of Iraqis in the United States), and about $268 million to UNRWA. Our support for UNRWA not only helps to ensure basic assistance, but also promotes capacity-building for future Palestinian leaders and tolerance in an extremely difficult operating environment. But support for UNRWA from most other donors has not been adequate, and I used my participation in the UNRWA Advisory Commission meeting in Jordan to strongly urge others to do more.

We will continue to press on these and other critical issues in the weeks and months ahead.
Eric Schwartz
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

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