Friday, November 9, 2007

Iraqi Refugees Return: Don't Believe the Hype

Claims by the Iraqi government this week that the return of 46,000 refugees last month was due to the improved security situation in Baghdad left me skeptical, to say the least. First, this optimistic claim is at odds with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' most recent statistics: 60,000 Iraqis flee their homes every month; 4 million Iraqis displaced (2.2 million within Iraq) as of September 2007. These numbers all represent sharp increases since April, when 40-50,000 Iraqis fled each month and 3 million Iraqis were displaced (1 million within Iraq). If the security situation is improved, as Iraqi officials claim, why are we seeing this increase? The answer is that Iraqis are returning "not because they are confident of Iraq's future, but because they ran out of money." Others are coming back because host countries like Syria are making it more difficult for them to stay, and recently began requiring Iraqis to obtain visas to enter -- visas that have been granted thus far to academics and merchants only. Many refugees currently in Syria hold only 3-month visas, and will be forced to return to Iraq when those visas expire. In the words of Zainab, a 25-year old Iraqi refugee in Syria whose husband was killed in a car bombing in Baghdad this year, "We have to go back, although we don't want to. We have no choice." The U.S. State Department announced yesterday it will begin processing Iraqi refugees in Syria for resettlement in the United States. Having taken in only 1700 Iraqi refugees so far (compared to Syria's 1.4 million), State's promise to take in up to 1000 Iraqis each month is too little, too late for those forced to return to the violence in Iraq. (Photo courtesy of .ash)

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