Friday, June 20, 2008

Iraq's Refugees, Eight Months Later

Image credit: UNHCR

Today is the United Nations' World Refugee Day. As part of that day, I thought it would be a good time to review what's been happening with Iraq's refugees since the last time I wrote about this issue.

In short, nothing's gotten better, and some things have gotten worse.

In a report just released fourteen months ago, Amnesty International wrote this:

The continuing conflict in Iraq has caused some one and a half million Iraqis to become internally displaced and some two million others to become refugees, raising concern of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis not only in Iraq but also in Syria and Jordan as these countries struggle to meet the challenges posed by major influxes of Iraqi refugees.
The numbers of people who have fled Iraq are immense and continue to rise. While there are no official statistics publicly available regarding the number of Iraqis living in Jordan, UNHCR estimates that there are around 750,000 to one million. In mid-February 2007 the Jordanian Government announced that it would carry out a survey of Iraqis in Jordan, including those with valid residencies and those without. This is expected to be conducted with the assistance of the Norway-based Institute for Applied International Studies (FAFO).

Iraq: A deepening refugee crisis - Media Briefing (April 16, 2007)

In my article from last October, which was based on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report of September, I wrote:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now estimates that 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes. Roughly half, 2.2 million, are displaced within Iraq[.]

Iraq's Refugees

Part of the reason for that increase in the estimated size of the refugee population, I suspect, is that the U.N. did a thorough survey to come to their number. Amnesty International may not have been able to do as thorough a study. Even so, that's an alarming increase in the numbers. The U.N. thougth that at least part of that increase was real:

The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate with the number of displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country, rising. Now, an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis are have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously, according to UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Displacement is rising as Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so. Some Iraqis who stayed in the country until the end of the school year recently started leaving the country with their families.

Iraq: Rate of displacement rising (August 28, 2007)

At 60,000 per month, that would have meant that an additional 200,000 or so would have been displaced between the end of April and the end of August. That still leaves about 600,000 refugees that probably just weren't counted by AI for its report.

All this is background to what the new AI report says:

Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world. Its refugee crisis is worsening. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, an estimated 4.7 million have been displaced both within and outside Iraq and for many the situation is desperate.

Iraqi refugees facing desperate situation

It seems reasonable to assume that since last September, 300,000 more Iraqis have been displaced.

Of course, that should probably say "at least 300,000 more Iraqis", since one of the problems facing Iraqi refugees is that they're running out of places to go:

Apart from failing to provide adequate practical and financial support, some states are also rejecting the asylum claims of Iraqis at an alarming rate. More European states are deporting rejected asylum-seekers to Iraq, including countries like Sweden, once a positive example to its European neighbours. Some states are using indirect ways to return people to Iraq, for example cutting off assistance to rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers and therefore forcing them to return "voluntarily".

Iraqi refugees facing desperate situation

I'd written back in October that the rest of the world beyond Syria and Jordan haven't been doing nearly enough. Nothing about that seems to have chenged. Reports on treatment of Kurdish refugees would suggest that little has changed. From Britain comes this report:

52 Iraqi Kurdish Asylum Seekers forcibly deported to Sulaimania Airport on Tuesday, according to a communiqué of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, which is released on Wednesday and received a copy.
Soran Ibrahim from Kurdistan stated to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, “After they [the British Police] handcuffed us [the failed asylum seekers], they took us to an airport outside London. I thought it was Stansted Airport . The [British] guards were very rough with us. An arm lock was put in round his neck of one the returnees as he was forced on to the plane. We were escorted by more than 100 guards on to a German plane. When we arrived at Sulaimania Airport they gave us $100 each and pushed us off the plane. We are not from Sulaimania.

52 Iraqi Kurdish Asylum Seekers forcibly deported to Sulaimania Airport

Jordan and Syria continue to shoulder the load, and other governments continue to go to a great deal of trouble to make sure Iraqis don't end up in their country. As I noted in April, "other govnernments" includes our own.

While most refugees are fleeing from the dreadful security situation in Iraq, some are refugees for what could be termed political reasons. As I wrote last year, some Kurdish refugees are in camps because they were asked to resettle to affirm Kurdish claims on territory. The New York Times wrote:

Even by the skewed standards of a country where millions are homeless or in exile, the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium is a startling sight.

On the outskirts of a city adjoining some of Iraq’s most lucrative oil reserves, a rivulet of urine flows past the entrance to the barren playing field.

There are no spectators, only 2,200 Kurdish squatters who have converted the dugouts, stands and parking lot into a refugee city of cinder-block hovels covered in Kurdish political graffiti, some for President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

These homeless Kurds are here not for soccer but for politics. They are reluctant players in a future referendum to decide whether oil-rich Tamim Province in the north and its capital, Kirkuk, will become part of the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government or remain under administration by Baghdad.

As Iraqis Vie for Kirkuk’s Oil, Kurds Are Pawns (December 9, 2007)

Has their plight improved any in the last six months? In March, the Idaho Statesman wrote:

Kirkuk, Iraq --There's not much soccer played at the Kirkuk soccer stadium. The bleachers are empty except for laundry hanging to dry. A red car is parked on the upper deck with someone living in it. Satellite dishes sprout like mushrooms from the cheap seats.

The stadium, which looks to be about twice the size of BSU's Bronco Stadium, has become home to Kurdish refugees returning to Kirkuk after being driven out during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Soldiers from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team occasionally patrol the refugee camp, making sure insurgents aren't launching rockets or mortars. The soldiers also check to see that refugees are getting food and water. On one recent visit, Idaho soldiers with Bravo Company passed out coloring books and crayons to refugee children.

Idaho soldiers see how Kurdish refugees live

I couldn't find a later reference. It looks as though they, too, are no better off.

UPDATE: If you want to help out Iraqi refugees with a monetary contribution, you can do it through this site, which is for the International Red Crescent. Siun explains how to do it at FireDogLake:

To send a donation, click here and select “Iraq Humanitarian Response” in the “I want my contribution to go here” box. 100% of your donation will go directly to assisting Iraq Red Crescent’s work.

Sending a Better Message to the People of Iraq

I can't vouch for the monetary transactions service they're using, but I used it.

UPDATE 2: Added the link to the Idaho Statesman article on Kirkuk. A commenter at Siun's article and CTuttle at Main and Central have mentioned that the UNHCR is also accepting donations.

UPDATE 3: One of the things that prompted my first article on this subject was the last blog entry of Riverbend, the young, articulate Iraqi woman who had become a refugee in Iraq. While nothing has been heard from her since, Laura Doty pointed to an article about another smart young Iraqi woman who has made it to America along with her surviving son, and now has a visa.


Laura said...


Cujo359 said...

You're welcome. I'm just sad there isn't more I can do from here.