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Forty-three year old Sara is an Assyrian Christian displaced from the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh. She and her family are forced to take shelter in a wedding hall in Erbil. (Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett)

Forty-three year old Sara is an Assyrian Christian displaced from the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh. She and her family are forced to take shelter in a wedding hall in Erbil. (Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett)

US and Western Allies Turn Backs On Refugee Crisis in Syria and Iraq

As UN criticizes international community for hardening towards the plight of Iraqi and Syrian people, critics of war say US is particularly to blame

Sarah Lazare

As the number of Iraqi and Syrian people displaced by war and conflict soars, the United Nations refugee agency is blasting the international community for failing to respond with adequate humanitarian assistance and resettlement. Critics of the U.S.-led war say that the U.S., in particular, is failing to meet its obligation, by driving the conditions behind the ongoing displacement and then neglecting impacted communities when they are in need.

"In Iraq and Syria, the U.S. is an active participant in that conflict and U.S. intervention is one of the main reasons why these refugees exist in the first place," Raed Jarrar, expert on Middle East politics and Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams. "The U.S. obligation goes beyond basic courtesy to a moral and legal obligation and responsibility to help refugees in Syria and particularly in Iraq."

Approximately 13.6 million people have been displaced in both countries, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday, according to Reuters. This includes 7.2 million displaced within Syria and 3.3 Syrian refugees living internationally. In Iraq, 1.9 million have been displaced this year alone, piling on over one million previously displaced.

Amin Awad, UNHCR's director for the Middle East and North Africa, told reporters in Geneva that the international community has hardened to the plight of Iraqi and Syrian people: "Now when we talk about a million people displaced over two months, or 500,000 overnight, the world is just not responding." 

Most refugees have relocated in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey, while other countries—including the United States—remain largely closed off. "Other countries in the world, especially the Europeans and beyond, should open their borders and share the burden," said Awad.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR announced Tuesday that the high levels of displacement, combined with a funding shortfall of $58.45 million, threatens to leave up to one million Syrians and Iraqis without critical assistance this winter.

"The shortfall affects our winter preparedness programs, although we have already invested US$154 million on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced, and means that UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize," chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.

The warning follows a report by the charity Oxfam, released in September, which charges that rich countries, especially the United States, are failing to provide adequate aid or resettlement for Syrians. According to Oxfam, U.S. aid to Syria, as a percentage of the national economy, is just 60 percent of its "fair share." In addition, the report notes that "to date, rich countries have only committed to offer safe haven to 37,432 of the 3 million refugees registered in neighboring countries."

But the U.S. does have money for war. "The additional troop deployment and plans for new congressional authorization for war, plus the White House request to Congress for $5.6 billion more of our tax money to pay for it, on top of the $60 billion previously requested for continuing U.S. wars, all mean we are already sliding fast down the slippery slope of escalation of another failing U.S. war," writes Phyllis Bennis, Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

According to Jarrar, a "real solution" to the refugee crisis does not lie in the "charitable" responses proposed by the UN, but in a long-term political and social response which engages and empowers people who are directly impacted by the violence. "The solutions for the displaced people is not resettlement or to keep them in limbo where they live," argues Jarrar. "The real solution is to create the conditions at home to allow for a voluntary repatriation and deal with the root causes that displace them. That is the most important thing to focus on with this humanitarian crisis."

"Lasting political and social solutions take a long time, and unlike military solutions, they are real," Jarrar continued. "The U.S. has an obligation, first, to do no more harm. This means stopping the U.S. intervention, stopping U.S. military flow to the region, and stopping U.S. covert operations in Iraq and Syria."

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