Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll December 20, 2016

US spent $2.5 billion on displaced Iraqis over Obama's two terms

Going into his first term, President Barack Obama promised to spend $2 billion "to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries."

By the end of those four years, we found that Obama hadn't kept this promise. Now, at the end of his second term, we decided to check the spending again.

There isn't a specific line item in the federal budget for dollars going to aid Iraqi refugees residing in neighboring countries. But State Department staffers were able to calculate the spending for us using internal numbers.

They found that the United States government has spent about $2.5 billion on humanitarian aid for displaced Iraqis in neighboring countries and within Iraq over the course of Obama's presidency, from fiscal years 2009-15.

This spending may not have occurred as early in his presidency as Obama intended. As we noted previously, the civil war in Syria has diverted attention to the refugee crisis there.

However, $2.5 billion in spending exceeds the amount Obama promised. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 27, 2012

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.

Abby Brownback
By Abby Brownback January 19, 2011

Aid for Iraqi refugees only slightly off-pace

President Obama's promised $2 billion in aid to "extend services… in neighboring countries” for the almost 5 million internal and external Iraqi refugees is coming steadily -- though at a slightly slower pace than necessary to meet the promised amount within four years.

According to budget numbers provided by the White House, $463.5 million was earmarked from several departments for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (Iraqis who remain in the country but not in their homes) in FY 2009. In FY 2010, that figure dropped slightly to $459.3 million.

The FY 2009 total was made up of $366.8 million from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; about $1.2 million from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and about $94.5 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which is under the umbrella of USAID.

In FY 2010, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration set aside $394.1 million for Iraqi refugees, and USAID and OFDA added about $65.2 million.

Elizabeth Campbell, a senior advocate who leads the work in Iraq by Refugees International, independently agreed with the figures, saying the U.S. government provided almost $400 million to Iraqi refugees and IDPs in 2010. She did not include aid from USAID. Campbell said the only funding for Iraqi refugees has been funneled through the Migration and Refugee Assistance and International Disaster Assistance accounts, which are connected to the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and USAID, respectively.

"Since Obama came to power, he has not through the regular (appropriation) process provided $2 billion to Iraqis. There has been no additional funding,” Campbell wrote.

According to a State Department fact sheet, between $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion has been allocated or estimated for each of FY 2009, 2010 and 2011 for Migration and Refugee Assistance, which has then earmarked specific funds for Iraqi refugees.

The White House figures show that two years into his term, the president is almost halfway to meeting his goal of $2 billion for Iraqi refugees. To do so, Obama will need to increase assistance above $500 million for the next two years.

We update the rating to "In the Works” to reflect the progress.

Kevin Robillard
By Kevin Robillard January 14, 2010

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.

Latest Fact-checks