Washington, DC –Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, marked World Refugee Day (June 20) by calling for a dramatic increase in American assistance to Iraqi refugees. There are over four million refugees in the region and internally displaced people in Iraq, but the President has only pledged to admit 7,000 of them during this fiscal year.

“I am dismayed by the paltry response of the Administration to this ballooning humanitarian disaster,” Lantos said. “The United States must take more responsibility for its actions in Iraq. Neighborhoods, livelihoods, and families have been destroyed, and millions of Iraqis are living in utter chaos under the constant risk of death. This nation must live up to its moral obligation to do all it can for the millions who have been uprooted by the violence as they seek nothing short of their family’s survival.”

Lantos is the author of the Iraq Reconstruction Improvement Act (H.R. 1581), which would provide a significant increase in U.S. assistance to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations. The legislation also instructs the Administration to use its existing authority to admit 20,000 Iraqi refugees both this fiscal year and next.

In the years following the Vietnam War, President Ford opened the door for over a million Vietnamese refugees to re-settle in the United States, Lantos noted.

Lantos indicated his eagerness to work with colleagues such as Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) who have proposed legislation on these issues, as well as members of the Judiciary Committee to ensure a swift and comprehensive response to the Iraqi refugee crisis.

“The ‘golden door’ of the United States must remain open to those around the world who seek to work hard and build a better life for their children,” Lantos said. “Refugees from violent conflict and political persecution across the globe deserve our attention and assistance. We must also not forget the millions of persecuted people who continue to pour out of Darfur, and the millions more desperate refugees and internally displaced people in other parts of Africa and around the world. We can and must address the burgeoning refugee crisis in Africa and other parts of the world at the same time that we respond to the plight of Iraqi refugees.”

As of 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had identified over 20 million “people of concern” worldwide, including 8.4 million refugees, 6.6 million internally displaced people and 2.4 million stateless people.