Nowhere to Run: Stories of Iraq Refugees (Part II)

In my last post I discussed how, despite President Bush’s claims of success within Iraq, secretarian violence continues to force Iraqis to leave their homes in fear of their lives. At least four million Iraqis have left their home country since the beginning of the war.

Leaving Iraq is only the beginning of their problems. Thanks to this large number, it is increasingly difficult for an Iraqi to gain asylum.

How difficult you may ask? Read on:

→ According to the Independent, Iraqi asylum applicants within the European Union rose by 98% between 2006 and 2007. In 2006 there were 19,375 and in 2007 there were 38,286.

→ Within many countries traditionally known for their openness to refugees such as Sweden, the saturation of the system brought on partly by the deepening Iraqi refugee crisis, is resulting in a backlash.

In 2007, the Migration Board of Sweden approved 72% of all Iraqi asylum requests. Since then, however, they ruled that there is no longer an armed conflict in Iraq. The BBC reveals that during January and February of 2008, the majority of Iraqi requests for asylum were rejected.

According to Refugees International, neighboring countries within the Middle East are being similarly impacted. The growing influx caused Syria to end its’ open door policy in October, imposing visa restrictions on Iraqi refugees. There are 130,000 Iraqis living in Egypt and the country will not accept any more.

In Syria, the influx of refugees has driven up housing prices. In 2005 the Washington Post reported that while in 2004, a two-room apartment in Syria cost $110 a month, at the time of the article it had doubled. Who knows what it is now. One Iraqi they interviewed said that he could not find openings within the Public Schools for his children—another sign that the infrastructure has been overwhelmed.

→ The United States, who for better or worse began the destabilization, has been slow to accept Iraqi refugees. According to the Washington Post, between 2003 and January 2007, the US had allowed only 466 Iraqis to immigrate under refugee status.

In the face of such dwindling options, many Iraqis are left with no place to run.

To remain in Iraq means food and water shortages, no electricity, poor medical care, and constant violence. Humanitarian agencies can do little to soften these realities since, as you know, humanitarian aid workers are frequently kidnapped and their distribution points often targets for suicide bombers.

To leave Iraq, however, often is hardly any better. Rather than nearly certain death, they face the plight of an asylum-seeking refugee where a part of their humanity dies daily— refugee children are often unable to attend school, their parents are unable to find work, the family lives in a tiny shanty, and no one seems to care.

The plight of the Iraqi civilians is incredibly complicated. The presence of US troops alternatively exacerbates and ameliorates their security problems. A total troop pull out right now, therefore, would not solve their problem—it actually would make it worse.

There needs to be safe places created either within Iraq or within the neighboring countries where refugees can go and rebuild their lives. This takes money—the neighboring countries to Iraq have huge poverty issues already. It also takes commitment on the part of the International Community to the crisis in Iraq.

Why should you care?

Well, from the perspective of the “War on Terror”, teenagers and young men are more likely (sometimes women) to turn to guerilla tactics and terrorism after experiencing life as a refugee or in a destabilized state such as Iraq. They feel that they have nothing to live for and hate being powerless in the face of conflict—such feelings are the breeding ground for recruitment by militant groups.

Stability for the Iraqi youth, therefore, is essential for the future stabilization of Iraq and the prevention of further outbreaks of terrorist violence.

On a larger level, refugees are victims of violence. They are not the perpetrators or instigators, they simply are looking for some way to return to a semblance of normalcy. They deserve to be heard and helped.

For more information visit Global Policy Forum’s page on Iraq’s Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees International’s page on the Iraqi Displacement Crisis, and the New York Times’ archives on Iraqi Refugees.

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