I first raised the issue of the Iraqi refugee problem in a post entitled "The First Diaspora of the Twenty-First Century: the Iraqis" on April 27. My post was met with incredulity on the part of some but we are now beginning to see the mainstream media latch onto the issue and begin covering it. This weekend, an outstanding article covering the Iraqi diaspora and entitled The Flight from Iraq appeared in the New York Times written by Nir Rosen.
Rosen explains how the Iraqi diaspora has impacted Iraq's neighbors (emphasis mine):
The numbers and the welcome became unsustainable: Jordan and Egypt have made it very difficult for Iraqis to enter, and even Syria, with a long history of welcoming refugees, has passed regulations, like restrictions on the purchase of property and on access to free health care, that are intended to ensure that Iraqi refugees are only temporary residents. Iraq's neighbors take the position that Iraqi refugees are not in fact refugees at all, because refugee status enables refugees to make claims on the host country. Iraq's government has itself taken roughly the same position, because it cannot afford to acquiesce in the loss of its population or acknowledge its own failure to provide security. The United States and Great Britain, as the principal authors of the current war, have been urged by rights activists to shoulder responsibility for the war's refugees -- a responsibility they have so far evaded. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the principal international body for refugee issues, succeeded in finding new homes for just 404 refugees in the first nine months of 2006 and says it hopes to resettle 20,000 by the end of 2007. That would be 1 percent of the current total.
The Iraqi diaspora is depriving that country of the very people who will be the most critical to rebuilding a society devastated by nearly 25 years of unremitting convulsion, upheaval and warfare.
In some ways, despite the ethnic and religious motives of most of the Iraqi factions, the Iraqi civil war resembles internal conflicts in revolutionary China or Cambodia: there is a cleansing of the intelligentsia and of anyone else who stands out from the mass. The small Iraqi minorities -- Christians and such sects as the Mandeans -- are mostly gone. The intellectuals and artists are gone.
Iraq's refugees are also exporting the Sunni-Shiite conflict that has erupted in their homeland to their places of refuge throughout the Middle East:
Not all of them are tired of sectarian conflict, though, and the Egyptians themselves may just be getting started. Muhammad's co-worker in the Internet cafe is a Shiite named Haidar. Hatred of Shiites is increasing throughout the region, and Haidar does not feel fully comfortable in Cairo. "On the street and in cabs, people ask if I am Sunni or Shiite," he told me. "They say we are infidels." One day at the supermarket, the grocer heard Haidar's Iraqi dialect and told him, "Your Shiites are infidels."
Why haven't we heard more about the Iraqi diaspora and the impact it is having on the entire Middle East? As Rosen explained, the Iraqi government has a vested interest in ignoring their existence because the refugees themselves are undeniable evidence of that government's abject failure to provide security for its people. The US and the UK also have a vested interest in suppressing coverage of the Iraqi diaspora because knowledge about it will undoubtedly further sap the dwindling public support in both countries for continuation of their involvement in Iraq.
Iraq's refugees present a growing and serious crisis that is no longer possible to ignore. As the occupying power of Iraq and under the rules of the Geneva Convention, we are legally and morally responsible for the problem and finding a solution for it. All Americans should demand that our government provide humanitarian relief for Iraq's refugees (even those in unfriendly countries such as Syria and Iran) and also assist in the resettlement of these refugees. This crisis is a a direct result of our war of choice and bungled occupation of Iraq. We should accept responsibility for the problem rather than pretending like it doesn't exist.
Conservatives often like to talk about accepting personal responsibility for one's actions. Let's see if they support that same concept with regard to Iraq's refugees or if they attempt to shirk that responsibility just as they have with so much else regarding this war.
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