Refugees from the tumult in Iraq have been overwhelming Jordan and Syria, says U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who has just visited the region. Guterres, who met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today, is urging the United States to do more to help millions of Iraqis who have fled the country.
The United States took in only 202 Iraqi refugees last year, and some members of Congress say the Bush administration isn't doing enough to help Iraqis who worked with the U.S. and faced threats because of their association.
Today, U.S. officials announced that the U.S. plans to resettle some 7,000 Iraqis this year and will give the U.N.'s refugee agency more money to aid those who have fled to neighboring states.
Guterres says that Syria and Jordan in particular have been overwhelmed with Iraqis now out of work and becoming increasingly poor.
"The number of people poor especially in Syria — but in both Syria and Jordan — is becoming very worrying," Guterres says.
The head of the United Nations' refugee agency says that at least 2 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries, and 1.8 million are internally displaced. The U.N.'s refugee agency has appealed for $60 million and plans to hold a conference soon to get donors to ante up.
Paula Dobriansky, the head of a new State Department task force on the Iraqi refugee crisis, promised to help.
"We will contribute an immediate $18 million towards UNHCR's recent appeal for Iraq," Dobriansky said, "which represents 30 percent of their appeal."
Dobriansky also announced that the United States would agree to take in the 7,000 Iraqi refugees — who still must go through security clearances.
Her taskforce is also facing a growing number of complaints from Iraqi students and business people who say they can no longer travel to the U.S. with their old Iraqi passports. The United States is requiring everyone to get new passports before applying for U.S. visas. That often means a dangerous and expensive trip back to Baghdad — precisely what many are trying to avoid.