Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East brings the refugee story up to date -- and much more as she wrestles with making sense of the wider power shifts that the U.S. invasion kicked off among and between the nations and religious sects in the area.
I don't have the expertise to evaluate the latter facet of this book. There aren't many people who do. Amos has deep experience covering the Middle East for NPR, but even she would probably agree that her broader subject is difficult and labyrinthine; I instinctively suspect that on some geopolitical matters she has over-interpreted anecdotal data. But I greatly appreciate her account of what has happened with Iraqi refugees and would recommend the book highly to anyone who wants to know what our hubristic little war has wrought among that ancient society.
Central to Amos' story is that the violence that forced one fifth of Iraqis out of their homes resulted from the sectarian conflict that the U.S. invasion made possible. Saddam had repressed inter-communal strife; clueless Washington proconsuls pulled out the cork, raised the stakes, and watched the scrabble for spoils unfold. And people suffered. She writes:
Marooned in Jordan and Syria, the exiles, often educated professionals, were/are largely unable to work legally. Sometimes they could/can pick up low status jobs, but such pursuits were dangerous. They existed on meager savings, in chronic fear of running afoul local authorities. They dreamed of home and eventually of resettlement somewhere, anywhere, else.
The most poignant chapter of Amos' book is the story of an evening's excursion with an otherwise matronly Iraqi woman who feeds her family and sends her child to school by picking up paying male patrons in a Damascus bar. Shame and necessity war within the exiles' psyches. Amos recounts an aid worker's reaction to the prevalence of prostitution and other forms of exploitation among the exiles:
Their quest for survival has had ramifications all over the area. They were never legally allowed in Lebanon; however Sunni extremists did sneak across closed borders and soon were embroiled in Islamist violence in the Tripoli area.
Refugees in Jordan tended to be relatively well-off and/or Christians.
Syria never closed its borders to Iraqis, though the Assad regime had no intention of incorporating them fully either. Amos believes Syrian willingness to serve as a kind of safety valve for this U.S.-unleashed human disaster has reaped a profit.
Of course, Iraq -- their homeland -- was where the exiles hoped to return. But for most, this wasn't going to happen. The present elected government was hostile to them.
Europe took in some of the refugees -- Amos charges that the European Union cherry-picked among these for Christians and the highly skilled; thousands more sneaked into the E.U. illegally. And, as after all of our wars of empire, thousands of the people we displaced have ended up in the United States.
Our resettlement program was based on the expectation that we had plenty of jobs for newcomers. Unhappily, with the Great Recession, Iraqi refugees (and their trashed country) have slipped out of our national consciousness and concern.
The writers urge that the Secretary of State used expedited resettlement procedures to help more of these endangered men to escape a horrible fate.