Iraqi Refugees: Will the Misery Ever End? (Update)
As has been reported, it is not only Iraqis who are fleeing Syria.
The New York Times reports that between 8,500 and and 30,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon in the last 48 hours alone, most of them coming from Damascus.
This is on top of the 112,000 Syrians who have previously registered as refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan and “ many thousands more who have fled but not registered. United Nations relief agencies say three-quarters of them are women and children, often arriving in a desperate state with no more than the clothes they are wearing.”
The Times also points to the vulnerability of Iraqi refugees who are now having to flee again and to the atrocities many of them are facing:
[Refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming] said the refugee agency had been informed of a family of seven Iraqis killed in their home last week in Damascus. She also said that frightened Iraqi refugees had been calling the refugee agency to report threatening phone calls, some accusing them of siding with the government.
Highlighting the sectarian tone of the violence reported in recent weeks, relief workers also say that some Iraqis have received calls accusing them of being Shiite Muslims. Sunnis are the majority in Syria and form the backbone of the uprising against the government.
Having seen up-close the desperation, vulnerability and total dependence in the eyes of hundreds of Vietnamese refugees back in the 70s, there has always been a special place in my heart for those who flee their country for political, religious, economic or other reasons.
At the height of the Iraq war, more than 2 million Iraqis had already fled the carnage in Iraq mostly to Syria and to Jordan and thousands more were fleeing every month, making it the largest diaspora in the Middle East since 1948.
At the time, I — along with many others — pleaded with our government to better address that humanitarian crisis and to allow more Iraqi refugees to seek asylum in our country, especially those men and women who had risked their lives by working with U.S. military and government officials, who believed our promises and who found themselves the targets of terrorists, insurgents and militia groups.
Also at the time, the U.S. had admitted fewer than 3,000 Iraqi refugees. Subsequently, under pressure from the United Nations and others, the State Department promised to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to enter the U.S. in 2007.
During the following two to three years, things improved somewhat. According to a 2010 report by Refugees International, the U.S. had resettled some 48,000 Iraqis in our country.
When our last combat troops pulled out of Iraq in August 2010, more than a year after Obama assumed the presidency, 500,000 Iraqi refugees found themselves still languishing abroad, mainly in Jordan and in Syria. In Syria the number was down from a high of more than a million Iraqis “who moved to Syria during Iraq’s darkest days between 2006 and 2008.”
According to an AP report in the Stars and Stripes, some 88,000 Iraqis are still registered as refugees in Syria, mostly in Damascus.
As if these hapless people have not seen sufficient pain and misery, the recent violence — now a “civil war” — in Syria has them on the run again.
Thousands of them are fleeing Syria by land and air.
They are leaving their homes “due to the increasing violence and ‘targeted threats’ against them.”
“What the innocent Iraqis are subjected to – killings and looting – is similar to what was done by the terrorist groups that harmed Iraq’s security during the past years,” said a statement by Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued late Friday, according to the Stars and Stripes.
Fortunately the Iraqi government is assisting the refugees in their quest to return to their homeland.
The Iraqi government says that so far about 1,000 Iraqis have left in eight flights from Damascus. Thousands more are fleeing by land despite a rebel takeover of several Syrian border posts.
“We will continue the flights until there are no Iraqis left” in Syria, said Capt. Saad al-Khafaji of the state-owned Iraqi Airways.
The Stars and Stripes describes the ordeal experienced by an Iraqi family of five that had fled to Syria in 2007 to escape the violence in their hometown of Basra, Iraq:
Fadhil Radhi, an Iraqi citizen who said he traveled to Baghdad via the crossing, said he and his family passed through al-Walid around midnight after deciding that life in Syria was too dangerous…
“We decided to return to Iraq because we feared for our lives, especially after the rise in killings and assaults targeting Iraqis living in Syria,” Radhi, 48, said while unloading his luggage from the bus that drove him from Damascus. He said tickets for the trip had more than tripled in price – from $30 to $100 per person – in the last week.
“Thank God, we have the money to pay for the trip back because I know families who are stranded in Syria because they do not have money to go back home,” he added.
May God help these people who have already endured so much.