Sunday, November 23, 2008

the reality of displacement

So today I spoke with my friend Ruthie Epstein, who works for Human Rights First, an organization that assists refugees and people who are seeking asylum. She just came back from a three week work trip to Syria, where she met with Iraqi refugees. I was shocked to hear some of the numbers she told me. I hope I remember all of this information correctly but this is what she told me: There have been 4 million Iraqis displaced by the war. She told me that most of the people were displaced not by general violence but rather by targeted violence/direct threats. She said that this year the United States accepted 14,000 refugees from Iraq, which is up from 1600 from the year before. The refugees staying in Syria are from the middle class in Iraq, and came to Syria with some savings, most of which are running out by now. They aren't able to get working papers to stay there, so they try to get relocated to third countries, preferably in Europe, she said, though she speculated that a lot of the refugees would probably be fine about being relocated to the U.S. I was not aware that in Europe, Sweden has been taking in the largest number of refugees. She said that a ton of refugees have gone into Iran (I think she said 50,000??), but that the U.S. tries to keep that quiet. 


Ruthie Epstein said...

Miguel got all his numbers right. Just one clarification - the UN refugee agency says that there are more than 57K Iraqi refugees in Iran, but part of that number left Iraq before the US invasion in 2003.

The displacement is a consequence of the war that's gotten pretty minimal attention, and it's potentially one of the most disastrous - a generation of Iraqis made homeless (figuratively, though shelter is a real problem), kids working in the informal economy instead of going to school, women turning to survival sex, increasing domestic violence, limited access to medical and psychosocial care, which is especially important when you've survived violence as harsh as that in Iraq. Inside Iraq, with its destroyed infrastructure, it's a whole other story for the displaced.

There are other extremely dire humanitarian crises in the world, but this is clearly one that the US had a direct hand in creating. We have a moral obligation to address it, and just as important, it'd be strategically stupid not to.

Many thanks to Miguel for the post.

miguel said...

thanks, ruthie, for this invaluable information. xo m