Arabeyes: World Refugee Day – Focus on Iraq

As the world marks the World Refugee Day today, the Middle East finds itself again at the centre of a mounting humanitarian tragedy.

A UN report blames the war in Iraq for boosting the number of refugees to 14 million worldwide. This figure includes 4.3m Palestinians (and their offspring) who were displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“The number of refugees worldwide has risen for the first time in five years, largely because of violence in Iraq, according to a United Nations report.
The total number of refugees rose by more than 14% last year to nearly 10 million, the UN refugee agency says.
The number of internally displaced people also reached a record high of almost 13 million, the report says.
(Besides Iraq, conflicts in Lebanon, East Timor, Sudan and Sri Lanka were blamed for the rise in refugee numbers.
The figures released by the UN do not include some 4.3m Palestinians (including those born in exile) displaced since 1948 as a result of the conflict with Israel,” reports the BBC.

The war on Iraq alone has resulted in 4.4m refugees and Internally Displaced People.

‘”The situation in Iraq continues to worsen, with more than 2 million Iraqis now believed to be displaced inside Iraq and another 2.2 million sheltering in neighbouring states,” the UNHCR statement said.

According to government figures, some 1.4 million Iraqis are now in Syria, up to 750,000 in Jordan, 80,000 in Egypt and some 200,000 in the Gulf region. Syria alone receives a minimum of 30,000 Iraqis a month.

“The number of Iraqis fleeing to neighbouring countries remains high,” the UN agency said,’ says Reuters.

What is the blogosphere's take on this tragedy?

State of Despair:

Zeyad from Healing Iraq posts three videos filmed for Dateline (09/05/07) by Australian SBS highlighting the plight of three Iraqi families who fled the carnage to nearby Jordan.

“You won't see this on American TV. It's heartbreaking, but these are just the stories of three families, out of millions,” he notes.

Warning: Some of the images may be disturbing.

Iraqi Refugees in Syria:

Alive in Baghdad posts this video, explaining why Iraqis are fleeing to Syria.

The international press is again highlighting the growing Iraqi refugee crisis. There are at least 4.2 million Iraqis displaced from their homes, with 2.2 million now believe to be outside Iraq. The UN has now warned the number should be expected to rise to 5 million displaced Iraqis in the near future.

Ian Mather writes in the Scotsman that this exodus now exceeds the displacement of Palestinians in 1948, and is the greatest exodus in the history of the region:

The flow of Iraqis fleeing sectarian violence in their homeland has risen to more than four million – the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Syria, with porous borders and greater openness to Iraqis than its other Arab neighbors such as Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, is believed to have the largest number. According to Paul Cochrane of the Independent:

A major and growing refugee crisis is developing in Syria. More than 1.4 million Iraqis have fled there since the 2003 invasion, with about 30,000 more arriving every month.

Although the primary reasons for Iraqis fleeing their country are violence and insecurity, many are also looking for better health care and the chance for their children to have an education without the daily risks of traveling between home and school in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

Fleeing to Jordan:

Konfused Iraqi Kid
writes that there are at least 750,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

“the Jordanian government signed an argeement with a Norwegian NGO, FAFO,to conduct a survey to estimate the actual number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, the results are expected to be published next month, after fieldwork has been finished in April and May, according to the website of the NGO.

Usually, any story involving Iraqi refugees you read will tell you that there are about 750,000 Iraqis in Jordan and 1.5 million in Syria.

However, a source from the Norwegian NGO just told me that the initial results seem to indicate that the total number is much lower, almost half of that estimate in here (Jordan). With the strict rules applied by the government on Iraqis entering Jordan, as well as the high cost of living and inability to find work or residency, I don't find it surprising that the estimate is lower, but it's such a huge difference that I am still willing to wait for the official results,” he explains.

Fleeing to Kurdistan:

Alive in Baghdad
updates us on the status of Iraqis fleeing to the Kurdish regions in this post, which features a video.

Arab Iraqis fleeing to Kurdistan have become an increasingly strong indication of the deteriorating situation in Baghdad. More than 30,000 Iraqis are believed to have fled their homes to Arbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.

This week Isam Rasheed takes us to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region and one of many cities in Kurdistan now brimming with refugees fleeing violence in the south.

The hardships expressed by two families in this episode are just a small indication of the difficulties Iraqis are finding in their new home. According to Ron Redmond, a spokesman for UNHCR, “Those who have fled are becoming increasingly desperate as they and their host communities run out of resources.”

Forget Baghdad:

Nadia N, an Iraqi living in Toronto, Canada, has dedicated a separate blog to document developments in the Iraqi refugee crisis. Aptly named Forget Baghdad, the blog has sadly not been updated for a while.

“this blog was created to highlight the challenges for iraqis seeking asylum outside of iraq as well as its internally displaced people and current diaspora. it was started out of concern for what i feel is a very underdiscussed issue, one whose urgency is growing exponentially as the war goes on. as iraq has become one of the most dangerous countries to live in in the world iraqis hoping to leave face exceptional challenges, not only due to a trend of european countries in recent years to tighten their immigration policies but also because of a refusal of many countries to acknowledge that iraq is a country at war, which complicates the status of those that are seeking refuge,” explains Nadia.

Help Iraqi Refugees:

From Egypt, Issandr El Amrani urges readers to pressure the US government to do more for Iraqi refugees.

“Refugees International is asking people to call the White House to ask them to increase the aid to Iraqi refugees to $290 million. Remember that, as we noted recently in a post on a recent Brooking report on Iraq’s refugee crisis, the US has given refugee status to only about 800 Iraqis since 2003, although new legislation will increase that to a still measly 7,000,” he explains.

Blame the US:

According to Shamhita, the US-led wars in the region continue to the mounting tragedy.

One of the less talked about side effects of the unjust and continued US led military campaign in Iraq is the subsequent displacement of people, mostly women and children, that are forced to flee from persecution and become refugees in neighboring countries. According to a study produced by the United Nations, the current number of refugees world-wide has risen for the first time in 5 years.

The total number of refugees rose by more than 14% last year to nearly 10 million, the UN refugee agency says. The number of internally displaced people also reached a record high of almost 13 million, the report says. Besides Iraq, conflicts in Lebanon, East Timor, Sudan and Sri Lanka were blamed for the rise in refugee numbers.

Furthermore, this doesn't include the 4.3million Palestinians currently displaced as well.

The report said the conflict in Iraq was largely responsible for the rise. Some 1.5m Iraqis are now estimated to be living as refugees in other countries, mostly neighbouring Syria and Jordan.

Considering that the next largest group of refugees are from Afghanistan, I think it is pretty safe to say that US military campaigns, not only kill people, but also displace them. But the bigger question for me is, what are the consequences of this displacement? What happens to people when they are forced to leave the place they know as home, go homeless, run in fear and look for protection from neighboring states, where the economy can rarely sustain them?

While our “leaders” sit pretty with greedy fists full of food.

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