Iraqi Refugees
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Dominicans Apply Pressure on Congress to Relieve
Iraqi Refugee Crisis

WASHINGTON, DC) “If we do not step up as Americans and as an international community and fund programs for the Iraq refugees, we are facing a humanitarian crisis of the gravest nature,” said Sr. Arlene Flaherty, OP, Catholic Relief Services Northeast USA Liaison for Justice and Peace.   Sister Arlene is one of 18 Dominican Sisters, representing 12 congregations from the United States and Iraq, who called on Congress to urgently improve U.S. efforts to resettle Iraqi refugees. 

Iraq and neighboring countries face the worst humanitarian crisis in Iraq's history, including the displacement of more than 4 million people, and as of right now U.S. and international assistance remains woefully inadequate.  In fact, tens of thousands of Iraqis for whom there is current legislation intended to help – remain in danger.  It is now nearly impossible for Iraqis - even those fleeing death threats - to leave Iraq.

On April 12, 13, & 14 the Dominican Sisters joined the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) and leaders from a coalition of other human rights organizations in Washington D.C.  This coalition of organizations met with more than 60 members of congress through their legislative aides, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, U.S. State Department and United Nations officials, as well as others.  The Sisters proclaimed that unless the U.S. Government moves fast to address the already grave Iraqi displacement crisis, Iraqi civilians will be at even greater risk, with serious consequences for the entire region.

During face-to-face meetings, the Sisters asked congress to approve an emergency $125 million for humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis above the funding that was already approved for this year.  They asked that $48 million be specifically allocated to migration and refugee assistance costs associated with the special immigrant visa program which is to assist Iraqis who are in imminent danger because they assisted the US government and military during the ongoing Iraq war.  The Sisters also asked for increased support for reconciliation, recovery and community-based development in Iraq.  They insisted that the U.S. increase admissions and resettlement for especially vulnerable refugees from Iraq by giving priority to the most vulnerable cases in accordance with UNHCR guidelines.

 “One of the ways that I think our lobbing was successful is that we not only had doors open to us but ears and hearts open to us as well, which is very important for our ministry of preaching.  We learned that many of our congressional offices are less informed than we thought they would be on the Iraqi refugee situation.” Sister Arlene said.  “What’s great about Dominicans as preachers and teachers, we were equipped to provide instruction and offer information in a way that was non-threatening and non-adversarial..”

During their meetings the Sisters wore their ‘I have Family in Iraq: 4 Million Displaced Iraqi’s 2003-2008,’and presented a button to the officials they were speaking with. The button they said communicates their concern for the displaced people of Iraq.  They gave buttons as a reminder to keep their promise to the Iraqi refugees.

In 2007 the U.S. government fell far short of its promise to permanently resettle 7,000 Iraqis in the United States and already the promise to resettle 12,000 Iraqis in 2008 is showing a slow start.  Approximately half of the promised 7,000 were resettled in 2007.   After meeting with the Sisters, Deputy Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Sam Witten announced  that the U.S. is will likely reach its goal of admitting the 12,000 Iraqis this year.  The Sisters accepted that statement with some skepticism but were overall pleased that several people in the government share their conviction that this refugee situation is a crisis. 

“It is always hopeful to me to hear what is going on,” said Sr. Reg McKillip, OP Justice and Peace promoter for the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, WI.  “I always end up asking myself the question, with all these people who care why is there so much that needs to be done? ”  United in the common mission, the Dominican Congregations of: Amityville, Caldwell, San Rafael, Mission San Jose, Sinsinawa, Springfield, Mosul Iraq, Adrian, Blauvelt, Grand Rapids, Sparkill, Columbus, and Racine were represented in Washington.

“When we enter religious life we expect to do things that we know we couldn’t do alone.  In Washington DC, saw the other Dominican promoters and recognized we have an international family.  Meeting the Iraqi Dominicans reminded us of the calling we have which is to join together in a communal way to do actions that as individuals we could not accomplish with the same effectiveness,” said Sister Barbara Hansen, OP, Justice and Peace promoter for the Dominican Sisters of Grand Raids, MI.  “It makes me proud to be a Dominican and renews my hope that together we will make a difference.”

Dominicans have been deeply and profoundly committed to action on behalf of Iraq since the days of Sanction in the 1990’s, and are calling on everyone to support the cause and keep the plight of Iraqi refuges in the public spotlight.

By Nathan Mihelich
Director of Communications
Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL


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