Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where are they now?

The people in this picture are Iraqis we met in Damascus in 2006. They had fled the Iraqi city of Basra, when after the U.S. invasion of 2003, militias began a campaign of "religious cleansing." These Christians had lived side by side with Muslim neighbors, both Shi'a and Sunni, all their lives, but in the chaos of war, community broke down. They saw friends and relatives killed and they fled.

Their lives in Syria were hard. Syria would not allow them to work, but at least it allowed them to live unmolested. Their children had little future, but they were alive.

The current violence in Syria is particularly devastating to the still large population of Iraqi refugees who had fetched up there. Cathy Breen from the Catholic Worker community in New York has worked with displaced Iraqis in Syria for years. She describes their situation:

“Can you help us!” cries the voice over the phone from Damascus. “
There are explosions and killings in our neighborhood. We are afraid
to leave the apartment. Where can we go?” I have no words to
advise or comfort them. We are helpless to know how to intervene on
their behalf.

Many months have passed since I last wrote you. Reports of the tragic
plight of Syrians having to flee the violence of their country have
been filling the media. The UN has officially asked neighboring
countries to remain open to Syrians. But the same countries are
closed to Iraqis, and the media is silent regarding the precarious
situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria. They have no option other than
to return to Iraq…. to the country from which they were forced to

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or desperate phone
call from Iraqi refugees we know in Syria, from trusted Iraqi
translators who know them, or members of their families living here or
in Canada. I just received news that yet another Iraqi refugee
family in Syria has returned in desperation to Iraq. In haste they
took one of the free planes sent by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al
Maliki from Damascus to Baghdad.

A UN refugee agency official reported on Tues, Aug. 7th that more than
22,000 Iraqis have fled the violence in Syria for their home country
in less than three weeks. (AFP, Aug. 7, 2012, The Jordan Times). And
we see the violence in Iraq escalating. In June of 2012, at least 544
people were killed in Iraq. Last month, July, the death toll was at
least 325, with 700 wounded. We are fearful for the well-being of
those returning. Will it be like going from the frying pan back into
the fire?

Just recently an Iraqi family with three little boys and a one-year
old daughter returned to Iraq. Iraqi children were being kidnapped
with break-ins and killings escalating in their neighborhood outside
of Damascus proper. About two weeks ago, they related to us that
they are now back in Iraq, in a dangerous area going from “friend’s
house to friend’s house.” While in Syria they were accepted for
resettlement to the U.S. They want to know what hope, if any, there
is for them?

Breen can be reached by email at this link.

Sitting comfortably oceans away, people in the United States can forget about our shameful war of destruction without purpose on the people of Iraq. We should not be surprised if others cannot.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I hear ya!!! I keep wondering about one of my favorite Bloggers -- Baghdad Burning. Last I heard she and her family had gone to Syria.

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