Jordan and Syria complained Thursday they have been abandoned by the West to deal with the massive burden of more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland.
Both countries issued urgent calls for help at a conference on Iraqi refugees, specifically expanded resettlement opportunities in the West and financial assistance.
Milad Atiya, the Syrian ambassador to Jordan and head of his country’s delegation to the conference, said the international community “must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility.”
Jordanian Interior Ministry Secretary-General Mukheimar Abu-Jamous argued that Western nations “relinquished their responsibility in shouldering the Iraqi refugee burden, and we urge them to rise to their obligation and resettle the largest number possible of those Iraqis.”
The influx of 750,000 Iraqis is costing Jordan $1 billion a year in basic services, Abu-Jamous told the gathering in the Jordanian capital. He also said the Iraqis posed security concerns for Jordan, which experienced its worst terror attack in 2005 when Iraqi suicide bombers linked to al-Qaida in Iraq killed 60 people at three Amman hotels.
Jordan has since tightened its residency regulations, and all Iraqis must undergo thorough background checks.
133 refugees entered U.S. this year
Some 1.5 million Iraqis have also fled to Syria and 200,000 to both Egypt and Lebanon, driven out of Iraq by the turmoil that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.
By contrast, the United States has only accepted 133 Iraqi refugees so far, citing security concerns, but it recently announced it will resettle some 7,000 more by the end of September.
“The U.S. offer to take in 7,000 refugees is symbolic,” said Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Haji Hmoud. “This is not a solution. Seven thousand is nothing.”
Delegates from the U.S. and other countries at the conference declined to comment.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, about 50,000 people continue to flee Iraq every month, mostly to Jordan and Syria. An additional 2 million Iraqis are believed to be displaced within their own country.
Suzanne Saleh Mohammed, a Syrian clothing store clerk visiting Amman, told The Associated Press that her countrymen are “very angry that so many Iraqis are coming into Syria.”
“They make many problems in Syria, they’re opening up nightclubs, some of their women work as prostitutes and crime is on the rise,” she said Thursday.
U.S. urged to increase aid
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Refugees International and a consortium of 36 international advocacy and aid organizations urged governments in a letter sent out Thursday to “dramatically” increase aid to countries hosting Iraqi refugees.
“We would also like to see the Iraqi government provide substantial assistance for the region,” the group’s Kristele Younes said.
In April, Iraq pledged $25 million to help displaced Iraqis at a similar conference in Geneva, but London-based human rights group Amnesty International said the money has not yet materialized.
Amnesty issued a statement criticizing Iraq for failing to follow through on its pledge, saying “this is a crisis that was made in Iraq, not in Syria or Jordan, and the Iraqi authorities have a duty now to help its neighbors meet the needs of Iraqis who have been displaced.”
Hmoud did not respond to journalists’ questions in Amman about the pledge.
'A 'terrible crisis'
Amnesty also called on the U.S. and other developed nations to increase their resettlement efforts for refugees.
“Their assistance must constitute a significant part of the solution to this terrible crisis,” said Malcolm Smart, head of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
The group said it visited Syria, where its delegates interviewed many Iraqis who had been tortured and in some cases raped. Most are traumatized, with little hope of receiving treatment, Amnesty said.
“Many refugees said they received no food and that their savings had dried up,” the group said.
The statement said some Iraqi refugees have even resorted to forcing their daughters into prostitution to help their families survive.