The Iraqi refugee crisis has already begun. There are over one million internally displaced people within Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have already fled to border countries and beyond. Providing protection and assistance to this population, as well as to newly displaced people as a result of a war will pose difficult challenges for the humanitarian community. The people of Iraq have suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's leadership, but they have also suffered under United Nations sanctions, which have taken a tremendous toll on the civilian population while leaving the Iraqi leadership intact.
Through interviews with Iraqis who had recently arrived in Jordan, the Women's Commission documented protection and assistance needs in Iraq and Jordan that require immediate attention, as well as the need for longer-term strategies in the event of a regime change.
For conditions in Iraq, the Women's Commission documented mobility restrictions imposed by the Iraqi government on the civilian population, with more severe restrictions placed on women. Recent arrivals also reported increased forced military recruitment by Iraqi officials of teen-age boys, as well as young men in anticipation of war with the United States. Many Iraqis in Jordan left behind children and elderly parents. All of the people interviewed with family still in Iraq emphasized the dependence on food rations distributed by the government through the UN Oil for Food program, as well as remittances from family members outside Iraq.
For Iraqis in Jordan, there are very few assistance programs. Of the estimated 305,000 Iraqis in Jordan, a small percentage choose to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Amman and apply for refugee status. Iraqis living in Jordan are in constant fear of detention and deportation because many have overstayed the length of time allowed in Jordan or are working illegally to support themselves and their families. Delays in the United States refugee resettlement program are making Iraqis in Jordan more vulnerable and are severely impacting UNHCR's ability to comply with its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
with the Jordanian government on the processing and resettlement of refugees. The United States' reluctance to accept Iraqi refugees through the resettlement program weakens its voice in discussions with border countries to keep their borders open and host refugee populations. While maintaining security in a post September 11th environment requires vigilance, it cannot result in the abandonment of the United States' commitment to refugees and its leadership on human rights in the global community.