Friday, May 20, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Iraq . . .

Though Iraq has been pushed to the back burner of the news cycle as the world has focused on the tremendous developments in other parts of the Arab world, the unrest in Libya and Syria has had significant ripple effects on Iraqi refugees.
Syria is currently host to an estimated one million Iraqi refugees, many of whom may have serious concerns about the instability and insecurity of life in in Iraq. Only 100,000 of these refugees are currently under the protection of UNHCR and therefore eligible for resettlement in a third country, leaving the rest with few options but to return to Iraq. But the Iraqi government and UNHCR face serious shortfalls in their funds to assist returnees. Both are preparing for the possibility of a mass influx of Iraqi returnees from Syria, with the Iraqi government chartering flights from Damascus for its citizens and UNHCR amassing humanitarian supplies on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria. This limited assistance will not likely be adequate to support a large-scale return of Iraqis.
In contrast, Libya hosted only 3,300 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers prior to the crisis, though many more Iraqis likely lived in the country without having registered with UNHCR. The Iraqi government reports that over 500 Iraqis have been evacuated from Libya and Yemen in the past few days. It is working on evacuating nearly 150 more Iraqis from Libya. Where will these Iraqis go? A lucky few refugees will be resettled to third countries, but many other Iraqis will face the unappealing choice between a marginal existence in Egypt or Tunisia, a dangerous and uncertain journey by boat to Europe, or return to a highly unstable Iraq. With international attention now focused on other parts of the Middle East, it is unlikely that forthcoming funds will be sufficient to stabilize the situation of those Iraqis who are now twice displaced.

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