Posts Tagged ‘Iraqi Refugees’

ICG Report on Iraqi Refugees

August 5, 2008

[Slightly outdated refugee map from UNHCR. The number has risen to approximately 2 and a half million]

“This is a humanitarian tragedy, but it is more than that. Rich in oil, Iraq today is bankrupt in terms of human resources. It will take decades to recover and rebuild. Because most refugees come from what used to be the (largely secular) middle class, their flight has further impoverished Iraq and potentially deprived it of its professional stratum for a decade or more. The period of exile should be used to teach refugees new skills to facilitate their eventual social reintegration and contribution. There is every reason to assist host countries in that endeavour…” Click for full article

Comment: I was just wondering — if things are so much better and more free in Iraq now than under Saddam, why did 2 and a half million Iraqis leave their homes, families and livelihoods behind to live in squalid conditions in neighboring countries which lack the infrastructure to accomodate them and where, out of desperation, many are forced into prostitution and crime? Why do so few of them have plans to return in the foreseeable future? Is it because they’re too stupid to realize how much things have improved in their country like John Mccain realized after his helicopter gunship-secured tour through the Baghdad marketplace? Are they too blind to see? They must not get Fox News over there, and unfortunately don’t know the truth.

[Iraqi refugees on the Syrian border. If only they had access to Hannity and Colmes]


FT: ‘Iraqi Christians opt for Lebanon’

January 21, 2008

(Christians in the Northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, an increasingly infrequent sight)

Interesting article from the Financial Times about Iraqi Christian refugees resettling in Lebanon in relatively large numbers. Despite Lebanon’s terrible track record of refugee treatment, the dwindling Iraqi Christian population is attracted to Lebanon for it’s reputation as a partly-Christian ruled country in an otherwise Muslim dominated region, and because job opportunities are much easier to come across in Lebanon than in neighboring Syria. The number of Christian refugees flowing into Lebanon doesn’t appear large enough to upset the country’s delicate sectarian balance. Although the proportion of Iraqi Christians to the total Iraqi population was never large, it appears that if anything, more of a lasting mark will be left on Iraq, the source of the refugees, where in spite of a recent upturn in the number of returning refugees, few Iraqi Christians plan ever to return.

(Financial Times) — The UNHCR has registered some 10,000 of the estimated 50,000 Iraqis in Lebanon but the government does not recognise their refugee status. Lebanese officials say Iraqis are treated no differently than other illegal immigrants who evade the country’s tough entry conditions. Lebanon’s fractured sectarian landscape and the presence of some 350,000 Palestinian refugees makes the country reluctant to absorb more foreigners. As with the Iraqis, the legal status of the Palestinians in Lebanon is among the worst in the region. Fearing that their presence will upset the sectarian balance, Lebanon has denied Palestinians work opportunities and a chance to integrate for decades. In spite of the intimidating atmosphere, Iraq’s Christian community has been heading for Lebanon in relatively large numbers. Lebanon’s reputation as a partly Christian-ruled country in a Muslim-dominated region has been part of the lure… Click for full article.

Refugees, Refugees, Refugees

November 21, 2007

(Iraqi refugees in Damascus, The Economist images)

So far I’ve already discussed the repercussions of the Iraqi refugee problem from a security standpoint on a few occasions because I’m certain this along with the problem of the spread of radicalized veterans of the Iraq war is one of the top, if not the top security threat facing the Middle East, though it hasn’t received proper coverage in mainstream media outlets. To be sure, many people either don’t know much about the Iraqi refugee problem, don’t care or don’t realize it extends far deeper than a humanitarian issue. There are at least four crucial articles on this issue that should be required reading. Aside from John Alterman’s excellent piece, The Economist has recently come out with an article on the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria with some unique perspectives (or see previous posting).

Next is an article by Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet written last May in the New York Times which highlights the danger posed by veterans of the Iraq war and their spread to neighboring countries. If the Afghanistan war taught us one lesson, it is that Jihadist war veterans don’t simply pack up their bags and return home to their day jobs when the war is over. Far more likely is that after being radicalized by the war, and having fine-tuned their insurgent tactics they will turn on their host countries. The most famous example resulting from the Afghan war is of course the case of Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization. So the story goes, after returning from the Afghan Jihad, and after the Saudi government allowed the United States to station troops on its soil during the first Gulf War, he declared war against the Saudi government and was soon expelled from the country. After Bin Laden failed to achieve his goal of toppling the government he later changed tactics to one of attacking the far enemy (United States) rather than the near enemy (Saudi Arabia). Anyone who still believes the Iraq war has made us safer would do well to read this article. Moss and Mekhennet assert, The Iraq war, which for years has drawn militants from around the world, is beginning to export fighters and the tactics they have honed in the insurgency to neighboring countries and beyond, according to American, European and Middle Eastern government officials and interviews with militant leaders in Lebanon, Jordan and London. Some of the fighters appear to be leaving as part of the waves of Iraqi refugees crossing borders that government officials acknowledge they struggle to control. But others are dispatched from Iraq for specific missions. In the Jordanian airport plot, the authorities said they believed that the bomb maker flew from Baghdad to prepare the explosives for Mr. Darsi.

There is already evidence of this happening — the war that raged all summer between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr-al Bahred refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon was not a battle against Palestinian refugees, but as Moss and Mekhennet point out, against a militant group of foreign Jihadists whose ranks included as many as 50 veterans of the war in Iraq, according to (Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, general director of the Internal Security Forces in Lebanon)… The group’s leader, Shakir al-Abssi, was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who was killed last summer. In an interview with The New York Times earlier (in May), Mr. Abssi confirmed reports that Syrian government forces had killed his son-in-law as he tried crossing into Iraq to collaborate with insurgents.

(Battle rages on at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon in the summer of 2007)

In another example the authors state that, “In Saudi Arabia (last April), government officials said they had arrested 172 men who had plans to attack oil installations, public officials and military posts, and some of the men appeared to have trained in Iraq.”

The other required piece of reading is an extremely interesting profile of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi written by Loretta Napoleoni, a terrorism expert and author, published in Foreign Policy magazine in 2005 following the hotel bombings in Jordan linked to Zarqawi, and before his death. As mentioned above, Fatah al-Islam’s likely leader Shakir al-Abssi, was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and fine-tuned his Jihadist skills while fighting in Iraq. Some have speculated al-Abssi was merely a pawn and not the leader of Fatah al-Islam but I don’t buy it, and there was hardly any evidence for this. The piece (which unfortunately in order to access you need to log into Foreign Policy or have access to Lexis Nexis) is called Profile of a killer: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the most wanted man in Iraq. How did this high school dropout tie the United States down in its deadliest conflict since the Vietnam War? From the slums of Jordan to the battle of Falluja, this is how it happened. Here, Napoleoni details the rise of the Zarqawi phenomenon, concluding that Zarqawi was not just a bad apple, but really represents a new generation of Jihadists far scarier than the Bin Laden generation, (how many of us right after 9/11 imagined we would be nostalgic for the days of Bin Laden-generation Jihadists?) It is much easier to think of Bin Laden as a special case because he came from an extremely prominent and wealthy family that afforded him close ties to the Saudi Royal family and the capability to fund Al Qaeda through his personal wealth. Zarqawi had none of these things — he was truly a nobody who grew up in a poor family in the city of Zarqa, Jordan (where he gets his name from) and served time in jail over such petty things as drug possession and sexual assault. But as Napoleoni argues, that is precisely why the man, and the new generation of Jihadists he epitomizes is so frightening.

(Zarqawi. Foreign Policy images.)

Napoleoni writes, “Although Zarqawi had demonstrated a zeal for his cause, there was little about him to suggest that he would catapult to the top ranks of the world’s deadliest terrorists. Uneducated and from a poor, working-class family, Zarqawi lacked the pedigree, connections, and financing that marked bin Laden and other senior leaders of al Qaeda… Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was born Ahmad Fadil al-Khalayleh in Zarqa, a Jordanian city north of Amman, in October 1966. Zarqa’s residents have dubbed the city “the Chicago of the Middle East” for its poverty and crime. Zarqawi’s family belonged to a branch of the Bani Hassan, a large East Bank Bedouin tribe loyal to Jordan’s Hashemite royal family. Zarqawi grew up in a miserable, working-class neighborhood where traditional and tribal values mixed badly with the Western consumerism and rapid modernization of the late 1960s. He attended a local school and used his neighborhood cemetery as a playground. He was hardly a star pupil. His teachers remember him as rebellious and unruly…

The anti-American crusade of the Saudi millionaire and the revolutionary jihad of the Jordanian working-class Bedouin had finally merged. From the slums of Zarqa to the battle of Falluja, the life of Zarqawi culminated in his greatest achievement–not his entry into al Qaeda, but giving the Iraqi jihad a new, revolutionary, anti-imperialist meaning.

In a sense, it is the very things that make Zarqawi seem most ordinary–his humble upbringing, misspent youth, and early failures–that make him most frightening. Because, although he may have some gifts as a leader of men, it is also likely that there are many more “Zarqawis” capable of filling his place. His rise is a sign that the jihadist movement is widening and democratizing in the blood and violence of Iraq. Al Qaeda’s old leadership, now trapped inside the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has apparently accepted and embraced this change-the transformation from a small, elitist vanguard to a mass movement. Most likely, this shift for bin Laden and al Qaeda is one borne of necessity, not a desired change in tactics. Either way, it surely means that the battlefield will grow wider still.”

(Zarqa, Jordan, the hometown of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bryan Denton, New York Times images)

We have already seen the harmful effects towards regional stability caused by another Middle East refugee problem, the Palestinian refugee problem, created in 1948 and unresolved to this day. In light of this past precedent there is reason to fear the emerging Iraqi refugee problem and the spread of Iraq war veterans in the region. More important than the issue of who is to blame for the Palestinian refugee problem is the fact that it continues — and with disastrous results for the region. To name just a few of the larger resulting wars and conflicts borne of the Palestinian refugee problem; a mini-war emerged between Israel and Palestinian infiltrators (fedayeen) after 1948 which, in part, led to Israel’s participation in the Suez War of 1956 in which it attempted to stop Palestinian infiltrators coming in from Egypt. Other examples include Israel’s ongoing war with the PLO and splinter groups beginning with the PLO’s creation in 1964, the Jordanian civil war against Palestinian guerrilla organizations in 1970 which killed an estimated 3,500 people on both sides and nearly toppled the Jordanian government of King Hussein, PLO provocations against Israel from southern Lebanon which brought about Israel’s invasion upon that country and so on.

One key difference is that the Iraqi refugees are likely to return if and when Iraq stabilizes because, unlike in the case of the Palestinian refugee problem, neighboring countries don’t have an interest in prolonging the crisis indefinitely as they did in using the Palestinian refugees as a political weapon against Israel. On the contrary, neighboring Arab states would be most happy to rid themselves of the Iraqi refugees and the strained infrastructures, crime, prostitution and violence — borne of desperation — that they bring with them. In addition, any future Iraqi government and the majority of Iraqis will most likely accept and even desire for their brethren to return (even if to new sectarian boundaries drawn up within the country) because, in contrast to the Israeli case after 1948, the Iraqi refugees are unlikely to be perceived as constituting the threat of a fifth column or the threat of bringing national war to Iraq to the degree the Palestinians were perceived to constitute this threat by Israel after 1948.

That said, hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving!

The Economist: Syria Struggling to Cope With Iraqi Refugees

November 21, 2007

The plight of the refugees:
Syria is finding it hard to cope with the flood of refugees from Iraq(The Economist)

“DO YOU have a job?” and “What are you doing at the moment?” are leading questions on the whiteboard in an English lesson at an Iraqi refugee community centre in Sayyida Zaynab, a suburb on the edge of Syria’s capital, Damascus. The students can expect more such requests for personal data in the coming weeks as the Syrian government and the UN carry out a census to count those who have fled from neighbouring Iraq.

Syria has taken in the lion’s share of Iraq’s refugees, about 1.5m of them, of whom well over half are probably Sunni, some 15% Shia and maybe 10% Christian. Jordan is thought to account for another 600,000 or so, but no one knows exactly. The Syrian survey will assess the needs of the refugees—and their effect on the host country, which has 19m of its own citizens. Many refugees are running out of savings, slipping into poverty, sometimes into crime and prostitution.

The count will be difficult. If they were all in camps, it would be easier, says Kristele Younes of Refugees International. “It’s the first time in the UN‘s history that there’s been an urban crisis of such huge proportions,” she says. “They are people who are very difficult to ‘see’. They speak Arabic and look pretty similar [to Syrians]. It’s almost a ghost population.”

In Sayyida Zaynab, near a Shia shrine to Zaynab, the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, the streets teem with Iraqis. Shops have been taken over by Iraqis, restaurants such as the Bakery Bagdady [sic] sell Iraqi specialities unknown to Syrians, and travel agents offer trips to the border for 500 Syrian pounds ($10). Some 350,000 Iraqis may have moved into this area alone, putting a strain on water and electricity supplies as well as on schools.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has opened a clinic to cope with the influx of sick Iraqis. Inside, the waiting area is packed. Dr Akram al-Hasani, a Syrian orthopaedic surgeon, is examining a Basra man still suffering from an arm wound after being shot four years ago. “We have many trauma victims,” he says. “And a large proportion of children with congenital problems, more than among Syrians.”

In the mainly Christian district of Jaramana, a clinic at the Deir Ibrahim Khalil convent has an equally wide range of problems. “Depression, depression, depression,” says Sister Malekeh, a Greek Catholic nun. “It’s very sad. Now we have a psychiatrist who started two months ago. Before they didn’t accept it and wouldn’t come to the clinic, but now they have started to come.”

In a census in 1987, there were said to be 1.4m Christians in Iraq. In the 1990s, the figure shrank to 1m or so. After Saddam Hussein’s demise, they began to be targeted, mainly by Sunni groups linked to al-Qaeda, so most have now fled. An Anglican churchman says that some 1.25m Iraqi Christians now live outside Iraq, with about 250,000 left behind.

International aid workers are queuing up to work in Syria, to relieve the burden on the UN agencies and on the Red Crescent. Eight charities, including Islamic Relief and the Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils, have been negotiating for months to start projects. The foreign ministry has given its approval, but they must work under the umbrella of the local Red Crescent, which has been slow to reach agreement with the various groups. The Ministry for Social Affairs and Labour, which oversees local NGOs, says that Syrian ones should work mainly for Syrians.

Moreover, Syrian attitudes to Iraqis are hardening, as the numbers overwhelm local services. The government also worries about the cost of providing the extra population with heavily subsidised bread, fuel and other goods.

The UNHCR has managed to register only 135,000 refugees, a fraction of those who have arrived. And they are still trickling in, despite new rules that have in effect closed the border. Only certain favoured categories of applicants, such as lorry drivers, businessmen, academics and engineers, are now being allowed in, with occasional exceptions for the sick.

Study: Jordan Hosts Half-Million Iraqis

November 14, 2007


Earlier I posted an important article which everybody needs to read about the future geopolitical ramifications of the Iraqi refugee problem, written by Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). I believe unfortunately Alterman’s foresight will prove correct and we’re likely to see many more stories like this one from Reuters (posted below). Imagine the effects on a country like Jordan, with a population of only 5.6 million, receiving an influx of over a half-million refugees (and more by some accounts) with no immediate plans to leave. As Alterman writes, For too long, the Iraqi refugee problem has been seen merely as a humanitarian problem. It is that, but it is also a strategic one. Hundreds of thousands of increasingly desperate, unassimilated refugees can do dramatic things, and among them is threatening the stability of their new home… Jordan’s refugee problem is compounded by a crisis brewing on its western border. With Hamas’ rise in the Palestinian territories, and the Fatah-led government’s determination to squelch it, instability there leaches into Jordan’s majority Palestinian community. The peril increases as U.S. policymakers and others push Jordan to deepen connections to the West Bank as a way of improving conditions in Palestine and supporting President Mahmoud Abbas. It may all work out well, but the danger is that Jordan falls prey to the crises on its eastern and western borders.”

(Reuters) – Jordan is home to about half a million Iraqi refugees, most of whom fled violence in their country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, a study released by a research body said on Tuesday.

The Oslo-based Norwegian Research Institute (FAFO) said a six-month long survey commissioned by the Jordanian government showed the majority of Iraqi refugees were Sunni Muslims who fled from the capital Baghdad.

The largest influx of Iraqis arrived in 2005, according to data provided by Jordanian border authorities.

Earlier unofficial estimates of the numbers of Iraqis residing in Jordan were put as high as one million.

The study said more than 95 percent of Iraqis interviewed had no plans to return to Iraq before security stabilised and almost one in five were already seeking to emigrate to the West.

Aid workers estimate at least 2.2 million Iraqis have fled to other countries, mainly Syria and Jordan. Both these countries have tightened migration rules for Iraqis.

Iraq had a pre-war population of about 27 million.

U.N. agencies say the refugees are driven by violence, poor services and unemployment.

Jordan says its Iraqi refugees cost about $1 billion a year, stretching the resources of a country of just 5.6 million people.