WASHINGTON — Fresh from a four-day fact-finding trip to Turkey, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) joined colleagues this week in advocating additional U.S. aid for Kurdish refugees imperiled by hunger, sickness and exposure in remote mountain encampments.
Berman and four other lawmakers who visited the Kurdish outposts at the request of House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which later voted to authorize an additional $425 million in emergency relief funds. The U.S. has supplied $133 million in aid to date. The money will be used for food, medicine, shelter and potable water--all of which the delegation said are desperatedly needed.
Berman, who heads the Foreign Affairs subcommittee responsible for refugee programs, applauded the precedent set by President Bush's decision to establish temporary settlements for the embattled Kurds within northern Iraq without Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's consent.
"Responding adequately to this kind of brutality toward civilians may well supersede a country's right to sovereignty," Berman said. "I think the world community has an affirmative duty to interfere."
He offered muted criticism that the United States and its allies "did not intervene the moment Saddam Hussein set out to destroy Kurdish life in Iraq" after the U.S.-led coalition's military campaign to drive the Iraqis from Kuwait.
The five-member House delegation traveled to the major border refugee camp in the mountains near Cukurca, Turkey, to witness U.S. military relief operations. It also met with Turkish President Turgut Ozal, U.S. military commanders, the American, British and French ambassadors to Turkey and representatives of the United Nations and relief agencies.
The delegation estimated that there are more than 900,000 refugees in Iran and 360,000 to 760,000 in the Turkish-Iraqi border areas.