Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today introduced legislation devoting more high-level attention and funding to the plight of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

“Our country needs to do far more for people who have fled the conflict in Iraq,” Berman said. “Communities have been overrun by violence from all sides, uprooting families and destroying livelihoods. We have a moral obligation to make every effort to help these people, especially those who have assisted our forces and personnel in Iraq and who fear they may never be able to go home.”

The legislation (H.R. 6328) is the House counterpart to a bipartisan bill introduced today by Senators Kennedy, Biden, Hagel and Smith. It creates an ambassador-lever coordinator position at the White House to determine and implement policy on Iraqi refugees in conjunction with federal agencies. Currently the departments of Homeland Security and State have senior coordinators to address the Iraqi refugee crisis, but refugee resettlement efforts have been hampered by a lack of interagency coordination. 

The coordinator would ensure that the United States seeks to provide funding for half of the amounts requested by the United Nations and other international organizations when they issue appeals for aid to Iraqi refugees and IDPs.

The legislation requires the coordinator to make certain that the United States does not encourage refugees to return to Iraq when conditions are not yet safe in the neighborhoods from which they came. Humanitarian organizations have raised concerns that refugees are being persuaded to return to Iraq even though their neighborhoods have not been stabilized and they cannot go back to their homes, now occupied by other people. 

Today Berman also introduced a resolution calling on the U.S. government “to strengthen its leadership role in the international community” in response to the genocide in Darfur, which has displaced more than four million people, “including the most vulnerable populations who endure sexual violence, human trafficking, forced conscription, and exploitation.” H. Res. 1290 also urges the departments of State and Homeland Security to facilitate the resettlement in the United States of Darfuri refugees who have little chance of going back to their homes.