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3/21/2007
INTERNAL REFUGEE CRISIS LOOMS IN IRAQ

For all the heartening news coming out of Iraq recently, there is a humanitarian crisis that threatens to completely overwhelm the ability of the Iraqis and the world community to deal with it.

I am talking about those Iraqi citizens who have been forced from their homes – usually at gun point – and forced to flee for their lives. Most often, the refugees make their way to a relatives home in another part of the country. The problem is that many of the smaller cities and towns in western Iraq where most of the Sunni refugees have gravitated are being overwhelmed. Social services are breaking down and there is a real danger of a humanitarian catastrophe.

To date, there have been around 730,000 Iraqis internally displaced since our invasion and occupation:

About 730,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the beginning of 2006 and are facing increasing hardship inside Iraq, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that most of the displaced were now hemmed inside the conflict-riven country.

“Reaching help and safety in neighbouring countries is becoming increasingly difficult,” Redmond told journalists.

“Many of those who have fled to other parts of Iraq have run out of resources and host communities are also struggling to absorb increasing numbers of displaced,” he added.

The UNHCR estimates that up to 50,000 people are fleeing their homes every month.

An estimated 4.0 million people in Iraq are dependent on food assistance, while the rate of chronic malnutrition among children is 23 percent, Redmond said.

We broke it. It’s our responsibility to fix it.

When 23% of the children are showing signs of chronic malnutrition, it’s time to hit the panic button. At the very least, we should be bending every effort – cajoling, pleading, begging the international community to put aside their distaste for our invasion and occupation and recognize that only with a concerted effort on the part of all can innocent lives be saved.

Of late, Prime Minister Maliki has made getting some of these refugees back into their homes a priority – especially in the formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad. When the Mahdi Army ruled the streets, they routinely moved into neighborhoods and ordered all the Sunnis to leave – usually within 24 hours.

But a new program initiated by Maliki could slowly start to reverse the flood and contribute to the healing and reconciliation process so vital to the re-establishment of Iraqi civil society:

At a time of epic displacement, Fuad Khamis has done something extraordinary: He has moved back home.

“When I arrived, I was overwhelmed and frightened at the same time,” says Khamis, a Sunni Arab taxi driver from Baghdad’s religiously mixed Sadiya neighborhood.

His house was damaged and there wasn’t a piece of furniture left. But the father of five says his Shiite neighbors have welcomed him back with hugs and kisses.

Encouraged by a major security clampdown that began Feb. 13, and reassurances from his neighbors, Khamis is one of the first to test Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s recent pledge to reverse the tide of sectarian “cleansing” sweeping Baghdad and move tens of thousands of people back home.

One of the major hurdles is a lack of resources to help the displaced move back in. And there are other problems with Maliki’s program:

Maliki has taken a tough line, labeling as terrorists everyone living in homes that were taken by force and informing parliament they would be arrested.

But the U.S. military, which is to contribute 17,500 troops to the Baghdad crackdown, says its forces won’t help the government evict squatters. U.S. officials believe it is a recipe for further abuses.

“It’s a no-win situation,” says Col. Douglass S. Heckman, senior U.S. advisor to the 9th Iraqi Army Division in east Baghdad.

Acknowledging the complications, Iraq’s Cabinet on Thursday gave occupants an extra two weeks to vacate the homes of the displaced or obtain written permission to remain.

Maliki’s government does not have the means to carry out a major resettlement program. Abdul Samad Sultan, minister of migration and displacement, expects many families will go home on their own once they see it is safe. They are being offered about $200 to help with the cost of the move. Apart from that, Sultan can only offer to issue badges allowing their return to contested areas and ask their erstwhile neighbors to write letters welcoming them back.

“I think that the Iraqi people have big hearts and can forgive the past,” Sultan says. “They have seen the results of violence.”

The more than 700,000 internally displaced people does not include the nearly 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq since the invasion. Coupled with another 2 million who left under Saddam, Iraq’s neighbors – especially Syria and Jordan – are having a difficult time caring for this human flood. Conditions in the Syrian refugee camps are said to be horrible and getting worse. The United Nations is giving what help it can but with these kind of numbers involved, only the western nations working together can alleviate that kind of suffering.

But with a huge problem being barely addressed in Darfur, the idea that the world will do anything to help with the refugee problems in Iraq is a chimera. Only steadfast and bold leadership from the United States can reverse the crisis. And sadly, as in other areas, the US is found wanting in that department.

By: Rick Moran at 5:34 pm
7 Responses to “INTERNAL REFUGEE CRISIS LOOMS IN IRAQ”
  1. 1
    Frank Martin Said:
    6:10 pm 

    The UN established a refugee camp in 2003 on the border with syria for the expected flood of refugees from Iraq. The camp was expected to house 50,000 iraqis.

    It went completely unused. American Military officials tried to get its facilities to house various groups,but were rebuffed by the UN officials who ran the camp at the time.

    What happened to it since then?

  2. 2
    Rick Moran Said:
    6:20 pm 

    I’m not sure what camp you’re referring to. According to UNHCR there are about 1.2 million refugees in Syria.

    Reading this article would seem to indicate that other reports I read about “camps” was either exaggerated or in error:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,471728,00.html

    I should have known better than to believe anything in Raw Story.

    That said, the point about internal refugees is still valid – especially if those figures regarding malnutrition are accurate.

  3. 3
    Frank Martin Said:
    6:49 pm 

    I apolgize for not bringing my source to the dance as it were, but i remember the story from the initial days of the war, because of stories of “iraqi hospitals being left unguarded” and so on. American Military tried to get help for the civilians at the UN refugee camps that were assembled on the border, only to be turned away because the people in question werent refugees – despite the war, they intended on staying in iraq. I also remember it being an issue in relation to the discovery of the ‘childrens prison’ on samarra.

    I will spend some time going through the “halls of google” to find any sign of the reference.

    I would also like to add that its estimated that about 1 million afghani refugees left the pakistan frontier to return to afghanistan after our actions there.

  4. 4
    Chris Said:
    7:35 pm 

    That’s a big if, considering this data comes from the UN, which never met a crisis it couldn’t blame on the United States.

  5. 5
    Karen Said:
    9:46 pm 

    When my husband was in Iraq, at the end of 2002, he developed friendships with some Iraqi collegues. Since then, many of them have fled to Jordan, or at least their families have. Some are in Michigan now. My husband just spoke with one colleague last night who will hear tomorrow if his application for residency will be approved. The husband wrote a letter of character reference for him to use with his application.

  6. 6
    Frank Martin Said:
    11:57 pm 

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/24/sprj.irq.aid/index.html

    more to follow. I do remember the issue of the un refugee camps because for me it was a key indicator for how well the war was going. I was shocked in both the iraq and afghanistan battles that the flow of refugees seemed to be towards the countries where the fighting was going on, not the other way. If you watch any footage from world war ii, refugees clog the roads, block progress of the armies. In both iraq and afghanistan, were never say that happen. it struck me as odd.

    It also struck me as odd, that the un built these large refugee camps, and no one seems to have used them. ( maybe thats no longer true, which is what im trying to find out)

    Also, while I agree wholeheartedly the premise that people should be helped(seriously I do) I offer a number of other reasons why this phenomenon might be occuring not at the beginning as one would expect, but 4 years after the start of the war.

    1. under saddam, people could not leave the country, even if they had the means. to do so might endanger the rest of their relatives that were still in iraq.

    2. under saddam people could not leave if they wanted to or were allowed to due to the enforced poverty of the iraqi state. Now, due to a significant uptick in the iraqi economy( the most under reported story of the last 5 years…), they can leave and are doing so. Theres now a sort of natural ‘surge’ for people who have wanted to leave for some time, but couldnt. sort of like lifting off the lid of a pot just before it boils over.

    3. many of the new refugees might in fact be not iraqis – but palestinians. palestinians, while given favored status and where in iraq in large numbers during the saddam regime have fallen into great difficulties throught the region. rahter than say that they were palestinian, which at one time might have brought favor in various refugee campes, they now say they are iraqi. why pretend to be omething youre not to garner sympathy? happens all the time in every culture on earth. you do what you have to do to survive. if being ‘palestinian’ gets you food, water and a place to stay, sure youre a palestinian. if being iraqi gets you the same thing, fine. so be it.

    4. Sensing that iraq might soon be the active battlefront of a war between iran and saudi arabia, many people are trying to avoid what would surely be a very nasty conflict before it happens. For similar european reactions, check out ‘silesian insurrection’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silesian_Insurrections)

    people sometimes have a sense for things that goes beyond the politics.

    5. saddam was a brutal dictator, and a dictatorship cannot be run by small numbers of people. I have to believe that bureaucracies throughout iraq under saddam used every form of extortion knon to man to keep their power over the local populance. I have to assume that now that saddam is – in the words of the mayor of munchinkland “very clearly dead”, that theres more than a fair amount of “get even”-ism going on through the countryside against the people who used to run the banks, the dmv, the local car lots, the ater and power company, who all were in some small way a small part of the apparatus of the regime. Since the middle east work on a family and tribal basis much more than the modren west does, it would not be enough to say ’ I didnt do anything” in my defense, because if lets say my uncle was the local gandarmerie under saddam, I assume that the natual law of “get even”-ism would apply to me as well. It would tend to make me want to go “somewhere else” for a bit until things calm down. hence, i too fall into the category of ‘refugee’.

    I’m not saying help shouldnt be given, im not saying things might not be bad, im saying that the picture of what is actually going on might have more layers to it than initially meets the eye.

  7. 7
    DCM Said:
    1:53 pm 

    I don’t agree with the “We broke it. It’s our responsibility to fix it” statement. Anti-Bush, anti-war sentiments aside, Iraq was broken before we got there. It may have been working for Saddam and whoever he favored at the moment, but all of the underlying problems were there when we came. We can help the Iraqis fix Iraq but we can’t fix it in spite of them. I think we should help them for a number of reasons, some altruistic and some selfish, but I don’ think we have an obligation to do so on the argument that “we broke it”. We didn’t. If some bastards casn blow up the hospitals, schools, water treatment plants and other infrastructure faster than we can build them that’s not our fault.

    As for “cajoling, pleading, begging the international community to put aside their distaste for our invasion and occupation and recognize that only with a concerted effort on the part of all can innocent lives be saved”, the international community doe really care about the ordinary Iraqi and relishes the problems we are having in Iraq way too much to provide any help to them since it might help us out too.

    To blame the problem the alleged lack of “steadfast and bold leadership from the United States” is mostly wrong since the much of the American people and the MSM do not support the lesser efforts of the current leadership.

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