Engel Remarks on Iraqi and Syrian Refugee Children
– As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at an event highlighting the plight of Iraqi and Syrian children:
“Good morning everybody. We are in the midst of debating a tax bill on the House floor. And so I have just come from there and I am going to have to leave as soon as I finish. I apologize. But I wanted, really so much to be here.
“And I want to thank you, Sean, for those kind words and I want to say good morning to all of our panelists. Let me acknowledge InterAction and the No Lost Generation group led by Mercy Corps, Save the Children, UNICEF, and World Vision. It’s such good work, it’s such wonderful work, and it’s really God’s work is really what it is.
“I’m sorry I missed hearing from Iraqi youth in Erbil. I know young Iraqis and Syrians face enormous challenges and I thank them for sharing their stories today.
“It’s important that we hear their stories. It’s important that we put a human face on this aspect because it’s very easy for someone to say well there’s war here and war is terrible and people suffer and so on and so forth. But, these are human beings who through no fault of their own happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and it’s just pitiful.
“And it’s nice to know that there are people here, and there are groups that really care and follow the work that we try to do.
“I was, I’ve been talking about Syria for so many years now, it’s just unbelievable. If I would have ever thought that in November of 2017, we’d be here and you know Assad would still be in power and crimes against humanity would be committed. These things just go on and on and on and on and on with nothing that seems to stop it. We can stop it, we should stop it, we should put the human face to this.
“And that’s what you do and it’s important because No Lost Generation programs are making a real difference for people in Iraq and Syria who have been driven from their homes. And in situations that can seem hopeless, you help make sure that the light of hope continues to shine. And that is so very important. So very important.
“Can’t even imagine what those people must be going through and what they’re thinking. It’s good that they know that we care about them and they aren’t forgotten. And they’re human beings just like we are, and we want to be treated with dignity and they deserve to be treated with dignity.
“The plight of refugees is heartbreaking, but we all know why Syrians have fled their homes. It’s because life in Syria has meant not knowing when Assad will drop the next barrel bombs or release poison gas, or, for both Syrians and Iraqis, when Daesh, or ISIS, might invade.
“Years into this war, a whole generation faces an uncertain future. Tens of thousands of children have been killed in each country, and over a thousand killed in each this year alone. Imagine. Children.
“They live in a constant fear of what tomorrow might bring for them and for their families and friends. And even the children who survive, what kind of damage does this do to them for the rest of their lives? What kind of scars are they carrying around for the rest of their lives?
“So their struggle must be our call to action. It’s imperative for us to step up and ensure that these kids not simply survive, but flourish and prosper. This means continued American investment in programs that work, continued efforts that deliver sustained results—at scale—to turn around the prospects for this generation.
“More needs to be done than just putting a roof over their heads and calling it a day. We need to help Iraqi and Syrian children find their voices and advocate for what they need the most. We need to make sure that they live in safety with access to health care, access to education, access to things that we want to see our kids have access to.
“One of the things that really keeps me up at night is that this generation of children—without access to basic necessities—is unfortunately vulnerable to extremism. For our own security, we must be working now to ensure that the future for Iraqi and Syrian youth is not hopeless.
“It’s the right thing to do. And because it will ultimately lead to greater stability for both countries, the region, and the world, it’s also the smart thing to do.
“We know that the end of this crisis will be difficult to reach, but not impossible.
“We know that more time will pass before the Iraqi and Syrian people achieve the future they deserve—a future of peace in a land of amity and democracy.
“As a lawmaker, my role is to keep pushing for policies that would crack down on the Assad regime and its enablers for their campaign of terror and carnage. I commit to you today that I will do all within my power to put an end to the brutalities of both Assad and ISIS.
“That’s why Chairman Royce and I introduced the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017 to provide tools to pressure Assad and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran. We need to turn the tables on Assad’s patrons and gain some leverage in any negotiations for a final settlement in Syria.
“I’m grateful for the many groups in this room that weighed in throughout the legislative process to ensure that my Caesar bill did not adversely impact the assistance community. This bill has now passed twice in the House, and I hope the Senate will take it up soon.
“Furthermore, it’s Congress’s role to conduct proper oversight of how U.S. taxpayer funds are spent. For me, that means ensuring that no U.S. reconstruction or stabilization funds are spent in Assad-controlled territories. He broke it. Now, Iran and Russia can pay for it.
“That’s my priority. But we all have roles to play, and this morning’s event reminds us of what’s at stake.
“So thanks again to No Lost Generation for putting together today’s event and to the young people in Erbil who shared their stories with us today. We must continue to hear your voices and lead by example as we look for an end to these crises.
“It might be a cliché, but it’s the truth: we must think of the children. We must do it for all those who cling to that hope for a brighter future for the children of Iraq and Syria.
“Children all over the world deserve the best, not because they happen to be in one country or another, but they’re children and we have an obligation to protect them. And they are the biggest victims of this war.
“We must do all in our power to make sure that they will not become a lost generation, nor the last generation. Again, we must do it for all those who cling to that hope for a brighter future for the children of Iraq and Syria. We know it won’t be easy work, but we need to stay at it.
“So, I want to just thank you from the bottom of my heart for the good work that you do, for the money you spent, for the fact that you make people’s lives better, for the fact that you’re always there to remind us morally of the right thing to do, always there to stand by the children.
“And it’s nice to know that when myself and others are fighting for this, you have our back, you’re with us and we’re with you.
“So thanks for all your good work, I’ll always be happy to work with you. And, again, it’s really doing God’s work and thank you for doing that.”
# # #