Advocacy group calls on Obama to appoint Iraqi refugee coordinator

Matthew Hay Brown at the Baltimore Sun alerts us to a campaign on behalf of Iraqi refugees by Human Rights First, an advocacy organization that supports worthwhile causes and not-so-worthwhile ones. It calls oppressive governments to account, but seems to lump the U.S. government in with those of Sudan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, etc. in needing their oversight in order to preserve human rights. (I’ve just skimmed their website so I’m open to correction on this, but putting an amicus brief on behalf of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on a par with stopping arms to Sudan and Zimbabwe is just a bit unhinged, isn’t it?)

Some of their ideas on Iraqi refugees have merit; others are off. Their press release  calls on “President-elect Obama to fulfill his campaign’s commitment to confront the Iraqi refugee crisis by strengthening oversight and effectiveness of refugee assistance, ensuring that the Iraqi government refrains from pressuring refugees to return home before they can do so in safety, and placing a coordinator for Iraqi refuges in the White House.”

The coordinator would be “responsible for ensuring that appropriate policy toward Iraqi refugees is integrated into U.S. strategic and operational plans in Iraq. The position was first proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.”

That’s kind of a neutral recommendation. Its merit would depend on what the coordinator was supposed to do. Here’s some of it.

The blueprint also urges the U.S. government to set “refugee benchmarks” for the Iraqi government and for U.S. assistance to shift from the government to NGOs if those benchmarks are not met. The benchmarks would require the Iraqi government to acknowledge that return of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees should be voluntary and to discuss more flexible visa policies for refugees with its neighbors.

I wonder in what way the government of Iraq is forcing the return of IDPs and refugees. And here’s the part I really have questions about:

In the past year, the Iraqi government has started a media campaign promoting refugee return and has organized return flights for refugees. Amelia Templeton, refugee policy analyst for Human Rights First, discussed the implications of the campaign with refugee families in Syria on a recent trip to the region in October.

“Security has improved in Iraq today,” says Templeton “but many refugees fear what might happen tomorrow. They’re looking for some measure of political stability.”

Templeton also noted that many refugees view the current return campaign as propaganda. “The government of Iraq should focus on providing humanitarian aid and accurate information to refugees and the internally displaced,” says Templeton.

It sounds like Templeton has her own agenda. Of course refugees fear what will happen tomorrow — who wouldn’t? Refugees are weighing what to do: Would they do better back in Iraq or as refugees? Is it safe in the part of Iraq they came from? Will they have a job? An organization trying to help the refugees would help them answer or solve these questions, and perhaps help Iraq’s government come up with solutions to the problems of jobs and housing. But it doesn’t sound as if Human Rights First is too interested in helping the refugees return home. Or maybe I’m just cranky. But it does seem as if this group is of a piece with the entire left in not wanting to give the U.S. any credit for making things better in Iraq. If the refugees could return home that would be a sign of improvement.

Oh, wait. We’re getting a new president. As soon as Obama takes the reins the situation in Iraq will miraculously improve; just wait and see.

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