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Democratic Senator Says U.S. Can Not Ignore Iraqi Refugees

WASHINGTON -- A Democratic senator warned on Tuesday that as U.S. troops leave Iraq, the United States should not ignore the plight of millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes or living as refugees in other countries.

Sen. Bob Casey, who chaired a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that dealt with the issue, said the displaced populations may be susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups. He said the situation "presents to the American people and the world a moral challenge as well as one that is related to security."

Casey said in prepared testimony that the United States should bolster efforts to resettle Iraqi refugees in the United States and develop a more comprehensive strategy to handle the issue.

According to U.N. statistics, more than 220,000 Iraqis who fled abroad or were displaced inside the country after the 2003 invasion returned home in the last year. Nearly 2 million are estimated to remain outside the country, mostly in neighboring Syria and Jordan, and an additional 1.6 million, forced from their homes by sectarian or ethnic violence, are displaced inside Iraq.

Nancy Aossey, president of the International Medical Corps, testified that the global economic downturn has exacerbated the situation. She said the plight of the displaced is largely invisible because there are no sprawling tent camps to capture international attention, and she said many live in extreme poverty without health care or access to education.

Casey said the Obama administration has pledged to spend about $150 million to help displaced Iraqis this budget year, but "the crisis does not appear to be improving."

President Barack Obama wants all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by September 2010 and remaining American forces home by late 2011.