Remarks to Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Iraqi RefugeesEllen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration
January 16, 2007
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Good afternoon. Today our committee will focus its attention on the current refugee crisis caused by the deteriorating situation in Iraq . Our hearing comes at a time when the momentum for bipartisan reform to address this crisis has never been stronger. It continues to grow. And I think that is good news in this country.
I thank our witnesses for being here, two of whom are going to be appearing at considerable personal risk. And I appreciate the cooperation of the press and the members, or I suppose it should be the members and the press, in helping us keep their identity hidden.
I'm going to turn the hearing over in just a moment to Senator Kennedy who will chair the Immigration Subcommittee when the committee organizes. But I'd like to say just a couple words.
Among the estimated 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled their country are hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees who escaped to neighboring countries with little more than they could carry. Many have been denied refugee status. They've been forced back into Iraq .
I am particularly concerned that we have not made provisions or created the legal authority necessary in this country to secure those Iraqis who have aided American efforts there. A lot of these are people we called upon to help us. And now we're not there to help them. We should not repeat the tragic and immoral mistake from the Vietnam era and leave friends without a refuge and, of course, subject to very violent and often deadly reprisals.
I'm also concerned about Iraq 's scholars. Many have been killed or are presently targeted for assassination. Others have gone into hiding. Iraq 's best hope is its younger generation. And if they are unable to continue their academic studies, their ability to contribute to Iraq 's future will be severely damaged.
And, Secretary Sauerbrey, I'd like to meet with you soon to discuss ways that we could assist those who have aided our forces in Iraq . And I wanted to discuss with you the special plight of Iraqi scholars along with the ways we could help them resettle outside Iraq where they could safely continue their academic research and instruction. We don't want to have such a brain drain where we have nobody there to help if peace ever comes to this troubled area.
I would hope that today's hearing also highlights all that still needs to be done to help other asylum seekers and refugees. And I believe congressional action is overdue to prevent further injustice resulting from the material support by (ph) the refugees admissions, an issue that's fundamental to America 's role as the leading protector of fundamental human rights.
And these guiding principles and our national security are not really mutually exclusive. Hundreds of people already in the United States are being denied asylum. And now they face being returned for prosecution, persecution and possibly death.
So many more things I can say. I will include my full statement in the record. I would note that the editorial boards of our nation's leading newspapers have spoken out strongly in recognizing the injustice our current law is causing those -- I think it is several hundred previously admitted refugees and exilees who are being denied reunification with their loved ones. It's perverse, and it should be embarrassing to us as the stewards of a country that's been known throughout our history as a safe haven for refugees.
So I am glad many are speaking out. I might add that the conservative religious activists who have recently joined our efforts -- I applaud them for doing that. I welcome them to the issue. I asked in a copy of the January 11 letter to Senator Specter and myself from a broad range of organizations, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Hudson Institute, Southern Baptist Convention be included in the record because change in the material support bar (ph) to make it consistent with our nation's commitment to human rights is something that should unite us across ideological and party lines.
It's time to bring our laws back in line with our values, remind everybody that we're children of immigrants. In my case, my mother is first generation. My wife is first generation. This is the beckoning country. We should make it so.
Senator Specter?SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I noted Senator Kennedy's excellent op-ed in The Washington Post recently. And I'm glad to see this hearing, Mr. Chairman, focus on this very pressing issue.
Some 1,600,000 have already fled from Iran , and another 1,800,000 are seeking refuge somewhere else. The reference that Chairman Leahy made to that we're all children of immigrants is certainly true. Both of my parents were immigrants. My mother came at the age of six with her family from Russia .
In 1911 when my father was 18, the czar wanted to send him to Siberia, and he didn't want to go to Siberia . And he heard it was cold there. He wanted to go to Kansas instead. It was a close call. And he got to Kansas .
But our laws are explicit in granting refugee status to people persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. And in my parents' days, there was persecution. The Cossacks, my father told me, would ride down the streets of his little town looking for Jews. And the problem that is faced now in Iraq is one of gigantic proportions.
There are hundreds of thousands who have gone to neighboring countries. I recently had an opportunity to visit in Syria . And President Bashar Assad talked about the 1 million who have come from Iraq to Syria . That is a factor which could be unifying among the Arab countries to try to help the United States reestablish order in Iraq because their countries are being stabilized by the tremendous flux of immigrants.
When we hear from Secretary Sauerbrey, we will get into the issue of how many unallocated spots there are, the capacity of the United States to take additional refugees within our existing quotas. And as we take a look at the immigration reform bill, which will be on the docket soon, we passed a bill out of the Senate last year. The House passed a bill. Regrettably we were unable to conference and come to a legislative conclusion. But when we take up this issue again, the matter of refugees ought to be high on our agenda to incorporate into immigration reform.
This is a very important hearing. And it's good to focus attention on it. And I look forward to the presentation of the witnesses, the secretary and especially to the individuals who will testify here today, one of whom is a Pennsylvanian and one of whom had been a Pennsylvanian. He will testify incognito.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Thank you very much, Senator Leahy, for scheduling the hearing.
Senator Specter, Senator Cornyn, who's our ranking member on the Immigration, Border Security and Refugee Committee. And it's good to see Senator Cardin here as well.
Five years ago, Arthur Helton, perhaps this country's staunchest advocate for the rights of refugees wrote, "Refugees matter for a wide variety of reasons. Refugees are a product of humanity's worst instincts: the willingness of some persons to oppress others as well as some of its best instincts: the willingness of many to assist and protect the helpless. In personal terms, we care about the refugees because of the seed of fear that lurks in all of us that can be stated so simply, it could be me."
A year later, Arthur Helton gave his life for his beliefs. He was killed in Baghdad in 2003 while meeting with the U.N. Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, when the terrorist bomb destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Iraq . But his words resonate today, especially as we consider the very human costs of the war in Iraq and its tragic effect on the millions of Iraqis, men, women and children who have fled their homes and their countries to escape the violence of a nation increasingly at war with itself.
Today in Iraq , according to the high commissioner for refugees, 1.7 million have been driven from their homes. Up to 2 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries, at least 700,000 in Jordan , 600,000 in Syria , 80,000 in Egypt , 54,000 in Iran , 20,000 in Lebanon . Thousands more on the move daily. And more than 10 percent of the people of Iraq are refugees. And we will see increasing (inaudible) by the sectarian, ethnic and generalized violence continue unabated.
Like other aspects of the war, we bear a heavy responsibility for their plight. As the Iraq study group states, events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions. The study group concluded that if this refugee situation is not addressed, Iraq and the region could further destabilize and the humanitarian suffering could be severe. America must respond.
Last year, however, the United States admitted only 202 Iraqi refugees. A special immigrant visa program for U.S. military Iraqi and Afghan translators currently has a six-year waiting list. We can do better than that.
The answer, of course, is not to bring every Iraqi refugee to the United States . But we do have a special obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who have bravely worked for us and often paid a terrible price for it by providing them with safe refuge in the United States . I hope this hearing will inform us all about how we might better assist Iraqi refugees and enable us to deal with it fairly and quickly.
We should work urgently with Iraq 's neighbors, especially Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who are bearing the greatest refugee burden. Prompt action is essential to prevent destabilization of the region and to relieve suffering and save lives. An international conference sponsored by the countries in the region and the United Nations could be a first step in addressing the growing needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people.
Our nation is spending $8 billion a month to wage the war in Iraq . Yet to meet the urgent humanitarian need to the refugees who have fled the war, the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the current fiscal year. The U.N. high commissioner has issued a $60 million appeal to fund its work with Iraqis for the next 12 months. Clearly, the United States should fund its share of that amount and take other steps to ease the burden on countries hosting large numbers of these refugees.
Our witnesses today will testify about personal stories of courage, loyalty, heroism and tragedy. They represent only a small number of countless stories of human indignity and suffering. Others have been criticized as traitors, infidels and agents of the occupier.
Some among them such as the Chaldean Christians have long been persecuted for their religious beliefs. We owe a special duty to protect all of them and their loved ones who are being targeted by insurgents and sectarian death squads because of their faith or their association with the United States .
I thank the Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey and the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees for being here and look forward to their plans for dealing with this extraordinary human tragedy. And we thank the other witnesses for sharing their stories of fear and cruelty and triumph. You are the human faces of this global problem.
If Senator John Cornyn wants to make a comment, we'd be glad to hear from him.SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):
(OFF-MIKE) America 's shores are often the last best safe haven. Our tradition of open arms dates back to the founding of this great nation. We should all be proud of the fact that the United States welcomes more refugees than any other country in the world. America 's refugee resettlement program is consistent with the values of a nation committed to compassion. Our refugee policy also advances America 's democratic values while safeguarding our national interests. And most importantly, it saves lives.
Today's hearing is an important one. And I likewise thank the chairman for scheduling it. I believe it will bring into focus the need to take a comprehensive approach toward our policy in Iraq with the ultimate goal of helping the Iraqis achieve stability and security. Anything short of achieving this goal will pose a substantial security risk to our nation, jeopardize our forces in Afghanistan and dramatically escalate the refugee problem in this region.
Sadly, the Iraqis have long suffered from human rights abuses at the hands of a brutal, blood-thirsty dictator. It reminds me of a comment I heard from an Astonian representative at the NATO parliamentary assembly a couple of years ago when he said, "Peace in these repressive countries is more bloody than war."
The Iraqis in the late '80s were the subject of a campaign begun by Saddam Hussein to exterminate the Kurds resulting in mass executions, the disappearance of non-combatants and the tens of thousands in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands. In the 1990s while continuing his oppression and slaughter of the Kurds, Saddam expanded his war on innocent civilians to the South where estimates of Shia deaths range from tens of thousands to more than 100,000.
Today, as has been mentioned, there is no shortage of refugees from Iraq , and many more internally displaced persons have suffered within that nation for quite some time. Indeed, when authorizing the president to use force in Iraq , Congress included as a justification this clause. Quote, "Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolutions of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population."
While the refugee and internally displaced persons situation in Iraq is severe, it would only worsen by degrees of magnitude if we followed the plans that some have offered to withdraw from Iraq before it is able to sustain itself, to govern itself and defend itself. I'm not alone in this belief.
Just this past Friday, I asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace what the humanitarian consequences would be if the United States were to pull out of Iraq immediately. They too are convinced that a premature drawdown of troops would lead to a sharp increase in internally displaced persons, increased numbers of murders, sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing. As a compassionate nation, we cannot stand by and allow further tragedy to ensue.
So, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to receiving the testimony of our distinguished witnesses here today and to working with my colleagues to try to find a way to address this current situation. We must, I would hope, resist taking actions that actually worsen the plight of current refugees in Iraq , exacerbates the refugee situation and at the same time, undermines our national interests. Thank you very much.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Thank you very much.
Our first witness is the Honorable Ellen Sauerbrey who became assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, migration January 2006. She heads the refugee bureau at the State Department that provides protection, assistance, sustainable solutions for refugees, victims of conflict and advances U.S. population and migration policies.
Ms. Sauerbrey formally served as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Before that, she served as the minority leader of the Maryland House delegates and was 1994, 1998 Republican nominee for governor of Maryland .
We want to welcome Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey. We had the good chance to visit with you in this committee when we've talked with the secretary of state about refugee matters. And we know of your own strong interest and commitment. We welcome you to the committee.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the committee. It's an honor to have the opportunity to appear today to discuss the issues involving displaced Iraqis and Iraqi refugees. I welcome the opportunity to detail some of the actions the administration is taking to provide protection and assistance for Iraqis in neighboring countries of first asylum and for populations inside Iraq . And I want to assure this committee that this issue is the very top priority for my bureau.
The administration shares your concern about the current situation facing Iraqi refugees and is committed to helping conditions for them in countries of first asylum. We are working closely with host governments in the region with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Committee for the Red Cross and non- government organizations. Through these partners, we are providing assistance to the most needy refugees and are seeking durable solutions, including resettlement to the United States for those that require this important form of international protection.
Since 2003, the administration has provided more than $800 million to support the world food program, UNHCR, ICRC, the International Organization for Migration and a range of NGOs that provide direct assistance to returning Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons and third country national refugees that are inside of Iraq and Iraqi refugees outside of Iraq to help meet basic humanitarian needs and support reintegration programs.
U.S. government support has increased the capacity of Iraqi government ministries working with refugees and internally displaced persons, provided training to non-governmental organizations serving refugees and assisted numerous victims of conflict. These programs helped reintegrate many of the 300,000 Iraqi refugees who returned home between 2003 and 2006 and helped many of the 500,000 IDPs inside Iraq .
However, due to the upsurge in sectarian violence in 2006, this trend of repatriation has reversed itself. And at present, more Iraqis are fleeing their homes to other areas of Iraq and to neighboring countries than are returning. UNHCR estimates that between 1 million to 1.4 million Iraqis are in countries bordering Iraq , though a large percentage of them had left prior to 2003.
We believe the current population of Iraqis in Jordan and Syria is a mixture of Iraqis who departed before 2003 and the newer arrivals. Many organizations, including UNHCR, have raised concerns about new arrivals and growing numbers of Iraqis in these bordering countries, though neither UNHCR nor the governments of Jordan or Syria have definitive figures on the size of the population.
UNHCR has argued that the refugee crisis it predicted would occur but that did not materialize after the invasion in 2003 is now upon us. Although we lack firm figures on how many Iraqis are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, we do know that many left with minimal resources and are living on the margins.
Other than alRuwaished, which shelters a stable population of third country nationals from Iraq , Jordan and UNHCR have not established refugee camps. Anecdotal reporting also indicates that many Iraqi children in these countries do not have access to schools or to adequate health care. We need better information on the needs of Iraqis in these countries, particularly their protection concerns.
We are encouraging the government of Jordan to allow a comprehensive survey of the needs of Iraqis in Jordan that would guide the international community in focusing assistance and protection activities. UNHCR is planning to conduct a similar survey in Syria . We hope our partners will be able to complete these surveys in the very near future.
And I might mention that I met with the charge from Jordan this morning to reinforce how important it is that this survey moves quickly.
However, we are not waiting for precise numbers before responding to the needs of vulnerable Iraqis in neighboring countries. We are continuing our support to UNHCR and NGO programs benefiting Iraqis in these countries now.
In 2006, the U.S. provided nearly $8 million of UNHCR's operational budget for Iraq , Jordan , Syria and Lebanon . In 2006, we also provided $3.3 million in funding to the International Catholic Migration Commission to assist the most vulnerable Iraqis in Lebanon , Syria and Jordan .
In 2007, we are expanding support for these and similar programs serving needy Iraqis in neighboring countries. But our ability to respond to the growing needs depends on receiving sufficient resources. The president's FY 2007 request for Migration and Refugee Assistance included $20 million for Iraqi humanitarian needs. The Administration will continue to monitor the recent refugee and displacement situation and the ability of the international community to address the increased needs.
Our support for UNHCR's protection mandate and our diplomatic efforts with host countries is essential to preserve the principles of first asylum and to ensure that assistance reaches vulnerable refugees. We continue to press all governments in the region to keep their borders open to those with a fear of persecution and to allow assistance and protection to reach these populations.
Jordan and Syria have been generous hosts to Iraqis for many years and have largely kept their borders open as people have continued to flow out of Iraq in 2006. Both Jordan and Syria are also hosts to sizable Palestinian refugee populations, and we recognize the additional burden Iraqi refugees place on these countries. We are working with UNHCR and with host governments to see how we can help bolster their capacity to provide the protection and assistance so Iraqis do not over-stretch social service networks and the ability of these governments to continue to receive Iraqis that are seeking asylum.
Another aspect of our response to Iraqi refugee needs in the region is an expansion of our U.S. resettlement program. Given the large number of Iraqis thought to be in Syria and Jordan , with some estimates as high as 1.4 million, the U.S. and other third country resettlement programs will play a small but important role in meeting the needs of Iraqi refugees. For that reason, we are working closely with UNHCR to prioritize U.S. resettlement for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees.
The U.S. has been resettling Iraqi refugees since the mid-1970s. To date the U.S. has resettled more than 37,000 Iraqis, the vast majority of them were victims of Saddam Hussein's regime. As the number of Iraqis arriving in Jordan and Syria increased in 2006, we have acted aggressively to expand our ability to offer more Iraqis refuge in the United States.
In 2006, we provided $400,000 of funding directly targeted to support UNHCR resettlement operations. These expanded operations will increase registration efforts to help identify vulnerable cases and boost the number of referrals to our program and to those of other resettlement countries. We have provided an additional $500,000 for this purpose in 2007.
This is very important capacity building for UNHCR for the resettlement program to continue to -- or to increase its ability to provide referrals. We have no quota on the number of Iraqis who can be resettled to the United States as refugees. The process of resettling Iraqis is the same as resettling Iraqis in need of protection from other parts of the world.
The process includes identifying those in greatest need from among so many, conducting adequate background security checks, completing personal interviews with adjudications and coordinating the transportation and logistics for individuals approved for resettlement. In processing eligible Iraqis for resettlement in the United States , we will remain vigilant in preventing terrorists from gaining admission to our country.
I want to recognize that some of the special populations that have received attention from humanitarian organizations in 2006 -- minority populations in Iraq and Iraqis who have worked closely with the United States in Iraq . Some have called for special protection and programs for these people, including religious minorities such as Christians who have fled Iraq or those who have worked for the American government or U.S. organizations or companies.
Many of these Iraqis are in refuge in Jordan , Syria , or Turkey and may be unable to return to Iraq because they fear for their lives. We intend to ensure that these special populations receive full and expedited consideration and access to the U.S. resettlement program. And we are encouraging them to contact UNHCR to make their needs known.
I want to take just a moment to talk about important programs the U.S. government supports inside of Iraq . While recent reports have highlighted the conditions of Iraqis in neighboring countries, we must not forget populations of concern still inside of Iraq itself. UNHCR and the Iraqi government estimate there are as many as 1.7 million internally displaced persons and another 44,082 third country national refugees in Iraq .
The U.S. government continues to support UNHCR, ICRC, and key NGO programs inside the country that assist communities with new internally displaced persons, recently returned refugees and other victims of violence. For example, we support important programs of ICRC that upgrade hospitals throughout the country and provide medical services to those who are innocent victims of the armed insurgency.
We also provide resources and diplomatic support to programs that seek to protect, assist and provide durable solutions for Palestinian, Turkish, and Iranian refugees inside Iraq . In 2005 and 2006, we supported the movement of over 3,000 Iranian Kurdish refugees from the AI Tash refugee camp near the strife-torn town of al Ramadi to a safe area in Northern Iraq , providing permanent housing, employment programs and local integration support. We are also working closely with UNHCR and the governments of Iraq and Turkey to enable the voluntary return of more than 10,000 Turkish Kurdish refugees from the Mahlanour refugee camp to their home villages in Turkey .
The U.S. Agency for International Development continues to support the protection and assistance requirements of internally displaced persons in Iraq mostly through non-governmental organization. These NGOs work closely with new IDPs to provide life- saving and sustainable assistance throughout the country. The administration will continue to implement existing programs and monitor the displacement situation.
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your leadership on Iraqi refugee issues, and we look forward to working closely with you as we seek to expand protection for these Iraqis, third-country national refugees and IDPs and to ensure that the vulnerable among them receive assistance, access to social services and, for the most vulnerable, the opportunity to resettle to a third country.
I thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. This concludes my testimony. And I would be happy to answer your questions.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
We'll take six-minute rounds.
I thank you, Madam Secretary. We've enjoyed working with you personally.
I'm going to make some observations just generally about the policy that I know of the administration. I think this is an instance where we, not unlike a number of other issues, whether it's been IEDs, the insurgency or the armor, we've really missing the crisis. And it's effectively exploded -- 202 refugees last year, $20 million for all refugees, despite our $8 billion a month for the war, $20 billion for next year. Money isn't everything, but a pretty good indicator about where the administration is.
Now, I want to ask you if you'll be of some help to us. First of all, in establishing special humanitarian parole, we've done it for groups in the Soviet Union . We've done it on Cuba . We've done it in Vietnam . We have done it at other times.
Will you take that back to the department -- and at least I would hope you would urge the department to consider that, given the nature of the crisis. But will you give the assurance that you'll take it back to the department and give us some response about whether they will go ahead and do that or if they won't, the reasons for it? Would you?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Absolutely, Mr. Chairman. And if I might add, I met just this morning with someone from consular affairs. And we were talking about just this issue.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Secondly, a commitment to activate, assist and to process refugees inside Iraq -- that's enormously important. You've got a series of regional embassies. You've got the green zone, Mosul , Kirkuk , Basra , Hillah. Will you give us assurance that you will go back to the department and consider activating a system to process refugees inside Iraq ? And then I'd like to know -- this could also include the American embassies inside the country. Will you look at both of those?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that. We certainly will. My bureau is holding conversations with our embassy. Another one is scheduled tomorrow to try to look at procedures that can be used.
It's a complicated issue because of the security problems of people reaching our embassy, people coming into the green zone. We are, however, looking at ways that we can find to do processing inside of Iraq as well as urging people who are extremely vulnerable to seek protection in Jordan where they are more readily accessed.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Well, that's true. But many of these countries are closing the borders. Now, I mean, the Jordanians, the Lebanese, the Syrians are hard pressed. The Saudis have closed theirs. So it's very difficult for -- the borders are closed for these individuals to get in. They can't do it inside Iraq . They can't do it outside. And we're going to hear from the kinds of witnesses stories of extraordinary courage and what they have done in terms of working with American service men.
We're going to hear a very important story of that and what the risks that they've gone through and how their fellow -- in this instance, translators, but another instance, a person that was providing water for American service men. So inside the country as well as the processing in embassies in that region very, very important. And I want to hear back from you, please, about what the department is going to do in this.
Next we have the 20,000 surplus in terms of the numbers, 20,000 reserved. Those numbers are approved by the president of the United States . We haven't had the resources. We've talked about this previously -- to do it. There is additional resources that are going to be necessary for the resettlement.
I'm thinking that, you know, we're talking about whether it's translators or those that have worked with military personnel, those that I think have worked even with American independent contractors, those who have worked with the press. They're all under the same kind (ph).
And we'll hear more about that later. We have special kind (ph). And if it is going to be the resources that are going to be necessary to be able to do it, we want assurance that when that supplement comes up in terms of the one that we anticipate that you'll make the request for adequate resources to be able to process this.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Mr. Chairman, first of all...SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
I know you can't answer that precisely. I've been around here long enough. But give us your best shot at it, will you?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
First of all, I want to assure you that our top priority -- and we are absolutely seized (ph) with the issue of how we can help those people who have worked for, provided assistance to the United States government. And that has got to be an absolute top priority.
In terms of the resources, if we are fortunate enough to receive the funding that the Senate approved for our admissions program, we will have the 70,000 number that the president asked for, which has the 20,000 unallocated reserve. We are eagerly waiting for a resolution to this number so that we don't...SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
OK. Well, if it doesn't come, I hope you'll give consideration to the supplemental. My time is just about up.
But this idea of a regional conference in the area -- you have individuals that are moved in all of these countries, including Syria , including in Iran . And I think we're going to hear later in the day from the U.N. high commissioner about the possibilities of having some regional conference, either under the Arab League or the other possibilities there. Can you give us some assurance at least that we are going to be a constructive and positive force and that we will participate in such endeavor if it's under the leadership of the U.N. high commissioner?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
I spoke to the high commissioner on Saturday, and he told me that they are moving forward with the OIC and expect to have some sort of a meeting of that -- under that auspices in the spring. We certainly look forward to working in any way that we can to cooperate. This has got to be a coordinated effort. The United States is a very generous country, but we can't do it alone, nor should we be doing it without coordinating with other countries in the region as well as other resettlement countries and assistance countries.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Well, I want to thank you. My time is up. I hope you'll get back to us in a timely way because time is of such importance.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Senator Specter?SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Madam Secretary, in your statement you noted that there are 1,700,000 internally displaced people in Iraq . And in your statement you note that the United States has helped to resettle 37,000. That's a very small percentage of those who are in need. Is that adequate? What more can be done?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Mr. Chairman, we recognize that if all the resettlement countries in the world take the maximum number that they can absorb we will only touch a small percentage of this population.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, what more can the United States do?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
What we are focusing our -- where we think our effort needs primarily to be focused is on assistance and protection of refugees in the countries of first asylum. These countries...SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
But, Madam Secretary, how can we increase the number so that we do more for more than 37,000? Would you take that back to the department? Because that's a relatively small number being accommodated.
How about the unallocated spots where some 20,000 are allocated each year without any specific designation? But a great many of those spots have gone unused. Two questions -- how many spots are there unallocated? And why aren't more being used for the Iraqis?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Mr. Chairman, the presidential determination was 70,000, of which we had designated at the time that that planning document was put together. Last spring is when that work began. And there was not at that point a massive outflow. And we had allocated in the planning document 5,500 slots for the region. We left the 20,000 unallocated reserve for the purpose of being able to have flexibility in the (inaudible).SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, why not use them now when there's such a pressing need?SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
We certainly are hoping that we will be funded to use them. At this point, we...SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Is it only a matter of funding? And is the State Department prepared to use those unallocated spots for the Iraqis?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
We would be using a significant number of them. There are other...SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
You say significant. What do you mean by that?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
I would say the overwhelming majority. There are other pressing areas in the world as well. But because of the significance of this outflow, I'm sure that the largest portion by far would go to Iraqis.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Madam Secretary, as to the 37,000 who have come to the United States , is there qualitative information as to what kinds of people these are? Are they Ph.D.s? Are they scientists? Are they skilled? Are those who are coming from Iraq to the United States adding significantly to the productivity of our country?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
I think that we can say that for the majority of people who immigrate to our country.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, if they are well qualified and if they are seeking asylum but if they want to go, we're not promoting a brain drain on Iraq . We're not asking their people to come to the United States . But where they're in need of refuge and they can benefit our country, that would be another very positive reason.
Let me turn now to the idea of an international conference. I had an opportunity to visit in Syria and talk to President Bashar Assad in late December. And he talked about Syria 's willingness to host an international conference where the warring factions from Iraq would be brought to Damascus . He said he had already gotten the cooperation of Turkey . He intended to invite other Arab countries.
He expressed concern about, as he put it, 1 million Iraqis who have come into Syria . Wouldn't this be a very important resource for the United States to activate and to be willing to have a dialogue with Syria , at least to the extent of dealing with this problem, which is of mutual concern?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
This would be a foreign policy issue, Senator, that would be a little bit out of my...SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, you're in the State Department.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
This is true. And I will certainly take this back to the secretary as a suggestion that you are posing.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, she's heard my suggestion. What do you think about it?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
I think that anytime that you can get...SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
She's heard my suggestion, and I've heard from her. But now what do you think about it?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
I think that anytime that you can get parties talking to each other that something constructive has a likelihood of coming out of it.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Well, it certainly is a gigantic problem. And the countries in the region -- this could be some common ground. When we talk to Syria we might also take President Bashar Assad up on his offer to try to control the border.
We're talking about trying to stop the insurgents and the terrorists from coming into Iraq . And he complains -- and I haven't had a chance yet to brief the secretary. She's traveling. But I will be doing so next week -- complains that he needs cooperation from the United States .
In the last seven seconds that I have let me ask one final question. And that is what steps are we taking to be as sure as we can that the refugees who come into the United States under this program these people are not terrorists themselves?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Senator, every refugee who comes into the United States has to be individually adjudicated by the Department of Homeland Security. They are screened for their background, and every effort is being made.
One of the reasons that you are seeing so few Iraqis that have come into the United States since 2003 is because of an enhanced security review that has been required that has made it very difficult for these Iraqi refugees who have been referred to us by UNHCR to pass through the screening mechanism.
That enhanced security review has also led to UNHCR not making referrals to the United States . So the security issue is very critical and very key to this whole issue, both in terms of how we balance the protection of the United States and at the same time, maintain the humanitarian nature of our country to be a welcoming country to refugees.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Thank you for your contribution to public service, Madam Secretary. I note a long resume of activity and public life, state legislature, candidacy for governor. We thank you for that active participation and for the job you are now doing. So carry our message back to Secretary Rice.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Thank you, Senator.SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA):
Thank you.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Senator Cardin?SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD):
Secretary Sauerbrey, it's nice to see you again. I had the opportunity...ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Mr. Speaker? Can I call you Mr. Speaker?SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD):
Not here, but you (inaudible). It's nice to see you. We had a chance to work together for many years in the Maryland legislature. And it's good to have you before the Judiciary Committee.
I want to follow-up a little bit on Senator Specter's point about the 37,000 because if I understand correctly, most of those 37,000 came to the United States when Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq . So do you know the numbers that we have admitted under refugee status since the current campaign by the United States and coalition forces?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Yes, Senator. We have admitted since 2003 466. And the large -- the main reason that that number dropped so dramatically was, as I was explaining to Senator Specter, after 2003, the Congress enacted significant changes in the law that have created a need for much enhanced security testing.SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD):
And I certainly understand that. But to just underscore the point that Senator Specter made and Senator Kennedy made, knowing the numbers of refugees that are in Iraq and in the surrounding countries, knowing full well that many of the individuals who are seeking asylum in the United States are doing so because of helping the United States in Iraq, as the two witnesses that will be testifying later and the ordeal that they had to go through in order to reach safety.
I am certain many have not reached safety. And I think we have a much stronger obligation to make this country available. I just really want to underscore the suggestion Senator Kennedy made about being able to provide services within Iraq for those who seek asylum in the United States . It is just impossible for many to go through what these two witnesses that later will be testifying to come to the United States without some assistance from us in Iraq or in that region.
So it seems to me that's the least we can do. And the fact that we only have 400 that have been able to make it through our process to be able to come to America I think speaks volumes as to the need for us to find a policy that will be more accommodating so that we accomplish some of our responsibility here to help those that are in need.
So I hope you'll do more than carry it back. I hope that we will come with some workable plans in order to make this program work in our country.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Thank you, Senator. As I indicated earlier, we are in discussions with our embassy, not only in Baghdad , but our embassies in the bordering countries so that we are trying to find a way to address those inside of Iraq as well as those who have reached perhaps (ph) Amman (ph). We are looking at special visas. We are looking at the special benefit parole. We are looking at trying to find some way to do in-country refugee processing.
It is a -- I have to tell you it is a very difficult issue to try to figure out how to do this within Iraq , within the green zone, within our embassy. How to do this is not an easy -- does not have an easy solution. I just want to assure you that we are working very diligently trying to figure out a way to make it work.
SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD):
I appreciate that. But one of my concerns is that many of these individuals are not displaced within Iraq . These are individuals that perhaps were living in their homes in their community but a fear of being killed or their families killed because they helped America .
So I don't know if we have any numbers as to how many are in fear of their life or fear of their families' life because of being identified with the United States . But it'd be, I think, important for this committee if we had better information to work on. I would just encourage you to try to get the numbers from our command in Iraq as to what we're looking at as far as families that are at real risk today.
One of the tragedies in Iraq is that we are not able to guarantee the safety of these families. So I think we need to do -- obviously we need to do what we can in Iraq . But we also need to do what we can to make sure people are given as much safety as possible.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
We have developed an expedited system recently with UNHCR whereby we are able to provide them with information of people who have already chosen to leave Iraq that are moving to surrounding countries so that we can alert them to immediately process. And, in fact, we just this week have gotten an individual who had been brought to our attention by an NGO that had gone to Amman . And we were able to notify UNHCR.
They brought them in and gave him refugee status immediately. And they have been referred to our resettlement program. So the process is underway.SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D-MD):
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Senator SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): ?SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Madam Secretary, in 2003 I had a chance to travel to Iraq with the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I remember standing on the edge of a mass grave located in Iraq and was told by a U.N. representative that approximately 400,000 Iraqis lay dead in similar mass graves throughout the country victims of Saddam -- of the Saddam Hussein regime, Kurds, Shia and others who resisted his tyranny.
They also at the same time said that about 1 million Iraqis had fled the country to other parts of the world. From what you said earlier, it sounded like that that reversed itself somewhat following Saddam's fall but then again reversed itself with the outflow exceeding the inflow. Could you go through those numbers again and the relative time periods?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Yes, thank you, Senator. This is such an interesting and complex issue because I can tell you I came into my position just about exactly a year ago. And at that time, we were touting the fact that repatriation was so successful because most of the resources that we were spending at that time were to return people. And a very large number of Iraqis were returning to Iraq . And we were funding the assistance programs to sustain them.SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):
And when did that change?ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
That changed largely following the Samarra bombing in April of last year. And so, it really was not until about, I would say, July or August that we started becoming aware that there was a large number of people moving in the other direction.SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): :
When looking at a difficult problem, I think you would probably agree with me it's important not only to look at what the effects are, but what the cause may be. And, of course, in trying to solve this problem, would you agree with me that if there's anything that we might be able to do about the cause of the refugees flowing out of Iraq in fear of their safety because of the sectarian violence and the unstable environment -- if there is anything we could do to stabilize Iraq to allow Iraqis to govern themselves and to defend themselves that that would go a long way to stemming the tide of people leaving the country out of fear for their own safety.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Senator, there is no question that throughout the world most people don't want to be resettling in third countries. They want to go home. Refugees want to go home. They want to live in safety and dignity in their homes.
And so, as we look at the solutions to this problem and recognizing that only a small percentage under the best of circumstances are going to find an opportunity to resettle somewhere else. And they're going to have to be the most vulnerable that we are able to identify that need resettlement that probably for whatever reason may never be able to go home. But making Iraq a stable country where the violence is brought under control is the most important thing that we can do for our refugee program.SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):
Well, I'll acknowledge the obvious and say our policy in Iraq is controversial. But what I hope is not controversial is our desire to try to solve this problem, not only in terms of the instability created in the Middle East and the likelihood of regional conflict and the likelihood of another failed state serving as a launching pad for future terrorist attacks, but also for the millions of people who are fleeing the danger in that country.
And I just hope that all of us in public life, those who have taken an oath to represent our constituents, to protect and defend the United States will try to look for constructive alternatives and not just criticize. I think one of the things that distresses me the most about the public debate about the way forward in Iraq is while the president has consulted with a vast array of people across the political and ideological spectrum, consulted with the best military minds available in our country and come up with a plan that there are those who would simply criticize that plan and who have nothing else to offer by way of an alternative.
And I would hope this would be one of those things from a humanitarian standpoint, from a standpoint of simple human compassion that we could rise above the typical contentiousness in Washington, the partisanship, the divisive debates and try to find some way to find common cause to bring that kind of stability to that country and to allow what perhaps is the most humane thing we could possibly do. And that is to allow Iraqis to return to their home and to live in peace and safety and stability.
So I hope while we look at the effects of the turmoil and violence in Iraq and we try to deal with that as well as we can we also -- we won't ignore the cause and we'll work together to try to find solutions. Thank you very much.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY:
Thank you, Senator.SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):
Thank you very much, Secretary. We look forward to hearing from you. Appreciate your appearance here this afternoon.ASSISTANT SECRETARY SAUERBREY: