Washington, D.C. — One out of every seven Iraqis has fled his or her home or sought refuge abroad, the largest movement of people in the Middle East since the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948, according to United Nations officials and relief workers. Every day, violence displaces an estimated 1,300 more Iraqis in the country; every month, at least 40,000.
Last year, 202 refugees from Iraq were allowed to resettle in the United States.
Against that backdrop, the Bush administration is moving - belatedly, in the view of critics - to address a problem that it's widely seen as having created by invading Iraq in March 2003.
On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the creation of a high-level State Department task force on the refugee issue. State Department officials said the Bush administration will expand the number of refugees it allows into the U.S., with special attention given to Iraqis who may be at risk because they worked for the U.S. government. But the administration would admit only 20,000 Iraqis at most this year.
In his just-released budget, President Bush asked for
$35 million to help Iraq's refugees in fiscal year 2008, plus $15 million in supplemental funding for this year.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a private nonprofit group, had urged Bush to seek $250 million as part of a supplemental war funding request.
The Bush administration "has been slow to react to a worsening situation, amid ample warnings," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. Rice's task force, he said, "is a hopeful sign, and it can move us forward as long as it doesn't waste time pondering the obvious."