Monday, November 12, 2007

Iraq war has set a human tide in motion

A woman with a supply of rations from the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization. Marko Georgiev for The New York Times.

According to Juan Cole, an Iraqi newspaper reports that

1,500 Iraqis are being forced to leave Syria every day as a result of strict new visa requirements. Still, about 500 new Iraqi refugees are able to come into Syria every day, since they managed to get visas. There are an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. There is now a net reduction of 1,000 per day, so that if it continues, in about 4 or 5 years all the Iraqis will be out of Syria. Which is probably what the Syrian government intends. Note, however, that this influx of 7,000 Iraqis a week from Syria is not spurred by better security in Iraq (otherwise, why are 500 a day or 3500 a week still leaving Iraq for Damascus?) The exodus is being dictated by new Syrian strictness about visas and residency permits.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs talked with people forced to return to a still desperately dangerous Baghdad.

Broke and desperate, Ziad Qahtan Naeem and his family have returned to their house in war-battered Baghdad, a move they likened to a "death sentence".

The six-member Shia family fled the Sunni-dominated Mansour neighbourhood of western Baghdad nearly two years ago and took refuge in Syria, joining more than one million Iraqis there.

But they have become part of a growing wave of Iraqis leaving Syria -- not because they are confident of Iraq’s future but because they have run out of money. ...

"At any moment you or any member of your family could be a statistic in a police file," added 46-year-old Naeem, who spent US$30,000 in Syria.

Things have deteriorated to the point that some parts of Iraq are turning away Iraqis fleeing more violent parts of the country. Basra has begun keeping out arriving refugees.

“We cannot cope with any more families seeking refuge in our province, whatever their reasons. The governorate is seriously affected by the high number of displaced families,” a senior official in Basra Governing Council, Hassan Abdul-Kareem, told IRIN on 11 November. ...

“The number of Iraqi families fleeing their homes for safer areas has increased, despite reports that levels of violence have diminished,” said Abdul-Kareem. ...

Dozens of families who arrived in the province on 9 and 10 November were forced to turn back or head to other southern provinces as Basra security stopped them at check points and prevented them from entering Basra city.

“When they saw our bags, a police officer stopped us and told me and my seven family members that we had to head back to where we came from because the local council had prohibited the entrance of new arrivals,” Raghib Muhammad, a 43-year-old Baghdad resident seeking refuge in Basra, said.

Relief agencies estimate that there are now roughly 2.5 million Iraqis forced into short term exile in Jordon or Syria by the violence unleashed by the U.S. war -- and an equal or greater number displaced within Iraq.

If you click on the picture of Faiza on the sidebar to the right, you'll reach the Collateral Repair Project, an Iraqi grassroots initiative through which people in the United States can help some of the displaced in Jordan and within Iraq help themselves. Take a look.

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