U.S. has spent $2 billion on refugees in the region in four years, but not all for Iraqis
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries."
We looked at the combined budget figures for the State Department's two relevant categories: Migration and Refugee Assistance and the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund. Here are the totals for the "Near East” sector, which includes Iraq:
Fiscal year 2009: $585.9 million
FIscal year 2010: $544.5 million
Fiscal year 2011: $533.3 million
Fiscal year 2012: $443.7 million
Four-year total: $2.1 billion
It's worth noting that this total covers spending in more than just Iraq -- it includes activities in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
We were unable to find breakdowns for what portion of the total $2.1 billion was spent on Iraqi refugees specifically. However, logic tells us that spending on Iraqi refugees accounted for only a fraction of the $2.1 billion spent on refugees in the region, particularly considering that Obama began winding down the Iraq War during his term, helping return the country to a more normal status. In addition, the overall trend for spending has actually decreased during Obama's presidency.
In a sense, this promise was overtaken by events.
"When then presidential candidate made that statement, it was a marker for the level of attention he would give the humanitarian consequence of a war that the U.S. waged, but which he never supported,” said Dara McLeod, director of communications for Refugees International. "Over the past year, events throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the Sahel and east Africa have taken much of the humanitarian attention off of Iraq.” Of special note is the civil war in Syria, which has not only displaced more than 400,000 Syrian refugees to neighboring countries but has also pushed "unknown thousands” of Iraqi refugees who fled during the Iraq war back to their homeland, McLeod said.
"While responding to the humanitarian consequences of conflict and natural disaster, particularly the Iraq war, was clearly a priority of the Obama administration, the evidence does not suggest that $2 billion was spent to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries,” McLeod said.
We rate this a Promise Broken.
State Department, "Executive Budget Summary: Function 150 and Other International Programs," fiscal year 2013
State Department, "Executive Budget Summary: Function 150 and Other International Programs," fiscal year 2011
Email interview with Dara McLeod, director of communications for Refugees International, Nov. 27, 2012
Aid for Iraqi refugees is slow in coming
During his campaign for the presidency, as violence displaced more and more Iraqis from their homes, Barack Obama promised to "provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries."
The outbreak of violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq after the U.S. invasion forced many out of their homes, and formerly mixed neighborhoods became sectarian enclaves. Many displaced Iraqis crossed the border into Syria, Jordan and other neighboring states. Estimates of the number of refugees are in the millions.
So what has Obama done to help the Iraqis so far? It's hard to say. There's no specified amount for Iraqi refugees in the 2010 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, but Vanessa Parra, a spokeswoman for Refugees International, isn't hopeful. The total amount allocated for Migration and Refugee Assistance in 2010 is $1.6 billion.
If Obama is going to provide $2 billion over the course of four years, he would need to spend $500 million a year. That would be more than a third of the total amount the United States spends on refugees in 2010, which would seem unlikely. We asked the State Department to verify how much U.S. aid has gone to Iraqi refugees but have not received a response.
There are other ways to fund refugee assistance, but Parra wrote in a e-mail that "it is highly unlikely [money] will come from humanitarian funding" and the United States can't give direct aid to Syria, where many of the refugees are located, because it is considered a state sponsor of terrorism.
"We can conclude that it is unlikely that he will meet his target," Parra wrote.
That said, funding could increase as the economy turns, or if the Obama administration decides to make it a priority. For now, we rate this promise Stalled.
E-mail interview with Vanessa Parra, spokeswoman for Refugees International
Fiscal Year 2010 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Act
Refugees International, Iraq