Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What War Brings: refugees to foreign countries

Photo: About 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion of 2003, with about 750,000 now living in Jordan. — Photo by AFP

WHAT WAR BRINGS: refugees fleeing to foreign countries

Yes, wars and violence and occupations always result in refugees running to a place that is safer, or at least, some place they think is safer. Often times this means going to a foreign country, and then attempting to rebuild your life.

Refugees, whether internal or external to their home countries, face hunger, malnutrition, lack of sanitation, disease, trauma, lack of housing, lack of drinking water, extreme stress that results in mental health problems, lack of employment, disruption in education, and threats to their very survival. Doctors without Borders have put together a slide show documenting what a refugee might face. I recommend watching it.

Iraqis have fled by the millions, mostly to Jordan and Syria, but many are trying to move on from those countries. Afghans have started in the last couple of years to flee to foreign countries also. Pakistan does not have a refugee population that is fleeing to foreign countries in large numbers, as far as I know. All three countries have large numbers of internally displaced refugees, which was covered in yesterday's blog post. This post is about the refugees who fled to foreign countries, most of them never to return to their homelands.


“Little relief in sight for millions of displaced Iraqis.” - Nir Rosen

Iraqi refugees have fled to dozens of foreign countries (but mainly Syria and Jordan) and some of what has happened to them will be covered in this blog post. Keep in mind that this is just a small sampling of what has happened – the refugee crisis from Iraq is huge. The following article is from September 2007 when the Iraqi refugee crisis was really hitting it’s peak.

No Going Back

“You have now entered Iraq,” my taxi driver joked. We had in fact just entered Sayida Zeinab, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus. This shrine city, long a destination for Shia pilgrims, had become home to an estimated one million Iraqis seeking refuge in Syria. “Everybody is Iraqi,” laughed another driver after several people he had asked for directions replied in Iraqi Arabic that they did not know.

…. In another alley I walked past the field office of one of Iraq’s most important Shia clerics, Ayatollah Kadhim al Haeri. Following the American war that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime, al Haeri had urged his followers to kill Baathists. Further down the street I found Muqtada al Sadr’s representative’s office, also guarded by security officials.

….. Since the spring of 2003 up to three million have fled Iraq, adding to the two or three million Iraqis who had been exiled before the overthrow of Saddam. All together, they compose a vast Iraqi diaspora throughout the Arab world, with the largest numbers in Syria (about 1.7 million) and Jordon (about 750,000).

The number of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan is staggering. About two and a half million have fled, and they mainly came to these two countries. The pre-war population of Iraq is estimated to have been between 25 and 30 million, so this is between eight and ten percent of their total population that has fled. That would be equivalent to 24 to 30 million Americans having fled to Canada or Mexico in less than four years. Imagine that.

The international community has been very slow to act in the face of this disaster. From the same article as above, Nir Rosen talks about why the world has been slow to recognize and take some action on this huge problem.

One explanation for why the international community has been slow to act is that is has been waiting for U.S. leadership. But for the U.S. to acknowledge the size and seriousness of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq would be to admit that the recent troop “surge” is not working. According to a senior UN official, “the U.S. government doesn’t want to admit there is a refugee problem because it is a sign of failure.” It would also mean acknowledging that a massive process of ethnic cleansing has taken place under the watch of the U.S.-backed government—indeed, that it has been perpetrated by the Iraqi government’s own security forces. Iraq’s Christian and Sabean minorities were decimated and have left for good. Baghdad, now cleansed and controlled by Shias, is irrevocably a Shia city, and its former Sunni-majority neighborhoods are ghost towns.

The numbers tell that story. “First the minorities left Iraq,” a UNHCR official told me, “now we get Sunnis targeted by Shia militias.” Until February 2006 the Sunnis and Shias were proportionally represented among Iraqi refugees registered with the UNHCR. But one month later the number of Sunnis shot up, far exceeding all the others. Although Iraq’s Shias are said to compose 65 percent of its population, in January 2007 more than three times the number of Sunnis (3,144) were registered than Shia (901). The next month it was four to one. Ninety-five percent were from Baghdad. And because only those Iraqis in grave need approach UNHCR, even these numbers vastly underestimate the crisis.

And here is Nir Rosen’s warning about all these Iraqi refugees, and their impact on Jordan and Syria.

Unable to return home, running out of savings, carrying with them sectarian grudges and many with military experience, Iraqi refugees may yet destabilize much of the region.

Aid for Iraqi refugees is drying up. The following report was from July 2009.

UN suspends medical aid to 600 Iraqi families in Jordan

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said it has temporarily stopped medical assistance to 600 Iraqi families, some of whose members suffer from diseases like cancer and heart problems. ‘The agency has requested 48 million dollars for 2009, but nearly half of this amount is still unavailable,’ Dana Bajjali, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Amman, told AFP.

….. About 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion of 2003, with about 750,000 now living in Jordan, according to UN and Jordanian figures.

Of course, Iraqis have fled to other countries too. Some of them, in 2008 and 2009, made it to the USA. Here is what International Rescue Committee has to say about them.

Flawed US Refugee Admissions Program is Failing Iraqi Refugees; Recession Only Makes Matters Worse

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is outdated and under-funded and is resettling Iraqi refugees into poverty rather than helping rebuild their lives in the country that offered them sanctuary, says the International Rescue Committee. In a new report, “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits,” the IRC’s Commission on Iraqi Refugees says resettlement continues to be a critical and lifesaving intervention for thousands of at-risk Iraqi refugees who are living in precarious conditions in exile and unable to return home safely. Yet the federal program no longer meets the basic needs of today’s newly arriving refugees and requires urgent reform.

Welcome to the land of the free, Iraqis. That means free to live under horrible conditions. And even though we call ourselves a “Christian” nation, we mainly do not follow the example or teachings of Jesus Christ at all. That is why we allow our neighbors to face destitution and homelessness, and lack of medical care, without doing much about it. Nothing personal, Iraqis – we treat our own this way too.

Given up for dead, Iraqi refugee struggles to survive in Temple Terrace

Hayder Abdulwahab's life as a refugee can be traced to the day he awoke on a pile of bodies in a Baghdad morgue.

….. A caseworker signed them up for food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income so Hayder could receive disability checks. The SSI checks totaled $674 a month, but their rent was almost $800 and utility bills another $100. They were desperate for Iman to find a job. In the past, churches or families would sponsor Sudanese youth or Bosnian families for months if not longer, helping with rent, furniture, used cars and clothes. Just as important, they might serve as ambassadors in a new country, helping navigate a maze of confusing government bureaucracy and customs. While never easy, resettlement for groups like Cubans is aided by a broad network of Spanish speakers, relatives and countrymen who came before. Hayder soon learned for Iraqis that support network is fraught with political and religious tensions brought from home.

That same article give some statistics on Iraqi refugees:

Iraqi diaspora

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent sectarian violence spurred one of the biggest refugee crises in the world. More than 2 million Iraqi refugees live in exile and an additional 2.7 million are internally displaced, most of that occurring after 2003. Most fled to Syria and Jordan. In 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began a large-scale resettlement operation to relocate Iraqis from Syria and Jordan to 16 countries. .

Iraqi refugees resettled:

United States: 31,000 from 2007 to mid June.

Florida: 311 from October 2008 to June.

Tampa Bay area: 41 from October 2008 to June.

Sources: United Nations; Florida Department of Children and Families; Lutheran Services Florida

Some Iraqis in the US are putting on a play to show what has happened to them.

Iraq exile tales shock and awe NY theater audiences

They are two of the characters in "Aftermath," a new play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen based on interviews with Iraqi war refugees who fled to Jordan to escape the sectarian violence that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The authors said they wanted to highlight Iraq's refugee problem, which remains a humanitarian crisis. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there were nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees living in neighboring countries and 2.6 million internally displaced people as of Jan. 1, 2009.

Some of the Iraqi refugees are in danger of losing their religious and cultural identity because of the fact that their families and communities have fled to various countries on several continents.

Iraqi minority refugees in jeopardy, report says

Minority Rights Group International said a disproportionate number of those who had fled Iraq were from ethnic or religious minorities, including Christians, Circassians, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis. Many undertook dangerous journeys to Europe often only to be met with restrictive asylum policies, discrimination and in some cases forcible return, the group said in a report. "Some communities like Mandaeans, who number a few thousand globally, stand to lose many of their religious and cultural practices, as they are spread across and within countries. They are at risk of cultural eradication," Carl Soderbergh, Minority Rights Group's director of policy, said in a statement.

The article goes on to say that leaving the country is no guarantee of safety and survival. Several countries in Europe (including Sweden, who took in WAY more Iraqi refugees than the US has) are returning Iraqis to Iraq at this time. They are claiming it is safe to return now.

Some Iraqi refugee groups are so small that dispersing them among several countries almost guarantees their culture and religion will not survive. The Mandaeans are an example of this. They must marry other Mandaeans, and this is difficult when the only ones you know are your own immediate family. The Mandaeans are finding their extended families in dozens of countries, where cousins may speak only one language, and it may be English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Arabic. Rather hard to get to know your cousins if you only speak English and some of them only speak Swedish and some more of them only speak Dutch.

Many refugee aid organizations and the UN have called, time and again, to help these refugees. Very little has been done, in light of how huge the problem actually is. The US has increased the number of Iraqi refugees that are allowed in our country (but still less than half the number who have gone to Sweden), and they are struggling to survive. The following report is from June 2009.

IRAQ: Call to protect, support Iraqi refugees worldwide

Marking World Refugee Day on 20 June, Iraqi non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies working in Iraq appealed for support for Iraqi refugees and called for assistance in creating the right conditions for voluntary, dignified and sustainable returns. "On behalf of all Iraqi NGOs, we call upon the UN and all international organizations to offer protection and facilitate resettlement of all Iraqi refugees who are affected by violence and to help increase the number of those who are accepted in secure [third] countries," said Basil Abdul-Wahab al-Azawi, head of the Baghdad-based Commission of Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of more than 1,000 NGOs inside and outside Iraq.

There are many organizations trying to help Iraqi refugees, and they could use your donations.

Refugees International is one.

And here are some suggestions in a blog post I did in 2008.

And Angelina and Brad are trying to help the Iraqi refugees in Syria. Angelina acts as goodwill ambassador for the UN refugee agency. I applaud them for trying, and I hope they have success in helping these poor people whose lives have been destroyed by the US invasion and occupation.

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie meet Iraqi refugees in Syria

“Most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services, Angelina Jolie was quoted as saying. “They will, therefore, be in need of continued support from the international community, Angelina Jolie added. Brangelina visited two families in Damascus’ poorest suburbs before meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad to discuss the Iraqi refugee crisis.


After the US/NATO invasion in 2001, Afghanistan faced a new problem: many Afghans were returning from foreign countries, and nearly all were destitute. Many of the returnees are still living in camps today, and that will be covered in an upcoming post on internally displaced people.

Refugees International says that more than three million registered refugees from Afghanistan remain in Iran and Pakistan.

Since 2002, in the largest refugee return process ever, over five million Afghans have gone home, the vast majority from neighboring Pakistan and Iran. More than half of these returns took place within the first two years, as Afghans seized the opportunity to rebuild their lives and their country following the fall of the Taliban regime. Today more than three million registered refugees remain in exile – 2.1 million in Pakistan and 0.9 million in Iran – and hundreds of thousands more are living abroad to escape economic hardship or targeted violence.

Things have changed since 2006. Afghanistan is once again full of violence and instability. Afghans are once again leaving their country, either for safety or for economic survival. They are going to foreign countries. Here is a report from July 2009.

Running out of options, Afghans pay for an exit

Through two decades of war, Abdul Ahad never contemplated leaving Afghanistan. But as his country started to deteriorate rapidly in 2007, so did his life. He was laid off from his full-time driving job and forced to take the only work he could find: a once-a-week driving gig through Taliban territory. In the past eight months, a suicide bomb and a firefight nearly took his life. Now, Mr. Ahad, 26, has had enough. He has begun scouting potential smugglers to take him to Europe, he said, looking to join the surge of young Afghans who are abandoning their country, frustrated by endless war, a lack of prospects and the slow pace of change.

In 2008, about 18,000 Afghans applied for asylum in countries in Europe. That was nearly double the number from 2007. They attempts to reach foreign countries are both dangerous and desperate. They are going to Australia, Turkey, Italy, France and others. In France, an immigration center called “the jungle” is keeping about 600 Afghans in very bad conditions. They are applying for asylum, but they are often disappointed. Here is what one refugee had to say, from the same article as above:

“It’s death or destination,” said Shuja Halimi, who expressed no regrets after he was deported back to Afghanistan from the United Kingdom, after a two-month journey across 12 countries, including Bulgaria, where he says he eluded gunfire at the border. He said living conditions in Europe were awful “but not as bad as Afghanistan.” Now in Kabul, Mr. Halimi, who has three children, has not found a job.

They are desperate. Nearly all refugees from wars and occupations are desperate. I certainly am not up to the task of adequately portraying how they feel, or what they are going through. In the past, some Afghan refugees went to Iran, but Iran is sending them back. They deported about 700,000 last year. This is really tragic, since these people have no where to go and no hopes of getting a decent job. But it is hard to blame Iran for not wanting to deal with this problem. They have already done way more for Afghan refugees than nearly all other countries with Afghan refugees (although Pakistan had a lot of refugees from the Taliban years), and the Afghans are potentially going to destabilize Iran. The US/NATO occupiers of Afghanistan show no appreciation or help. Also, Afghan refugees are using Iran as the starting point for immigration to other countries via Turkey to Greece.

There are smuggling operations running these migrations. They are both dangerous and costly. They are, of course, illegal. But to the desperate Afghans, these are secondary concerns. They want a chance at a life, a normal life. The following report is from July 2009.

Afghan refugees threaten to overwhelm EU

When Greek police bulldozed a makeshift migrant camp in the western port city of Patras Sunday, they highlighted one of the lesser known consequences of the conflict in Afghanistan. Most of the camp dwellers were Afghans. Many had paid several thousand dollars to people smugglers to get there. The camp had been there for 13 years. Recently it housed as many as 1,800 refugees waiting to be smuggled by boat to Italy. Earlier arrests had reduced the number to about 100 when the police struck.

…… Most of the immigrants arriving illegally in Greece do not plan to stay there. Most had hoped to get to Italy, with France and Britain being favored onward destinations. With the destruction of the Patras camp and tighter security against people-smuggling at the port there, more are now likely to head north for the land border with Bulgaria or Macedonia.

…… Currently Britain is one of the most favored destinations. Smugglers tell refugees that the British welfare system will find them work and support them in the meantime. As a result, the northern French port town of Calais has become a magnet for refugees hoping to hide in a truck or even the trunk of a car to slip across the Channel to Britain. Some 1,500 currently live in shanty camps around Calais much like the one at Patras. They wash their clothes and bathe in the sea, use their surroundings for toilets and eat at local soup kitchens.

Refugees International is trying to help Afghan refugees, and there are other aid groups trying to help also, although most of the aid is going to the internally displaced people. Afghan refugees fleeing to foreign countries are a growing problem. And as violence increases, more and more will flee for their lives, or flee to find some economic opportunities that they cannot find in the insecurity of their home country.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: refugees fleeing to foreign countries.


REAL NEWS on the Iraqi refugee crisis in 2007

Voice of an Iraqi women -From “No Going Back” article

Sitting nearby in a car, an elderly Sunni woman from Ghazaliya, in western Baghdad, was waiting for her family to return with their passports. “Is this democracy to tell people to kill and displace people?” she asked me. “Our situation in Iraq is miserable, worse than miserable. What have we gained from the oil? Even in winter we have no kerosene to put in the stove. There is no gas, no security. Only killings and explosions. The children do not go to school.” It was her second trip to Syria. She had returned to Baghdad to bring more of her family, which would now number approximately 30 people. She began to cry. “Please get our voices to the world,” she begged. “What did the United Nations do for us? What did America do for us?

No comments: