No place like exile
Kurdishaspect.com - By Hoshang Waziri
Six years after the toppling of Saddam Husein’s regime in Iraq, the outpour of Iraqis beyond their borders have not dissipated in any away. Many Iraqis until today still seek refuge from the sectarian and political turmoil of their homeland.
The massive movement of Iraqi immigration to neighboring countries started with the terrorist attack on one of the Shiite's holiest sites in the Sunni dominated city of Samara northwest of Baghdad. Ironically the attack on the al-Askariya shrine in February 2006, unlike all other terrorist attacks in post Saddam's Iraq, killed no one but dramatically increased the waves of sectarian bloodshed between the two major factions in Iraq and created an immense displacement amongst Shiites and Sunnis. Indeed the attackers achieved their main goal: triggering a sectarian war in Iraq. The attack was followed by hundreds of armed assaults on mosques of both sects, and a wave of kidnappings and killings, many in broad daylight. This sectarian violence resulted in cleansing operations in mixed neighborhoods all over the capital Baghdad and other major cities such as Mosul and Basra, and forced a huge number of Iraqis to leave their homes and take refuge in adjacent countries such as Syria and Jordan.
The tragedy of Iraqi refugees and of the internally displaced people within Iraq itself has become one of the most urgent humanitarian issues that faces both the international community and the Iraqi government. There are no precise statistics about displaced Iraqis in surrounding countries. But in 2007 Iraqis had became the leading nationality seeking asylum in industrialized countries. As of September 2007 there were believed to be well over four million displaced Iraqis around the world. While these numbers may not be precise, its scope remains appalling: an estimated two million Iraqis in Syria, around half a million in Jordan, over 50.000 in Egypt and about 40.000 in Lebanon. Meanwhile, internally displaced people are forced -- under death threats usually sent in envelops stuffed with a single bullet -- to leave their homes and their neighborhood.
Most of the countries in which large numbers of Iraqis lived, such as Syria and Jordan, are not part of the 1951 Geneva Convention nor the 1967 Protocol, which guarantee basic rights in the host countries. This lies at the heart of the Iraqi refugees’ disaster. In Syria, for instance, Iraqis become scapegoats for almost everything, from the economic inflation to the social deterioration. Some Syrians say that the flood of Iraqi refugees, which started at the beginning of 2006 and continued until the end of 2007, led to prices to skyrocket, crime rates to soar, and insufficient space for Syrian children in schools. Furthermore, "immoral diseases are mushrooming" as one Syrian put it, in a clear indication to the Iraqi prostitution that invaded Syria after the Iraqi war in 2003, which brought about the increased dominance of Islamic parties in Iraq’s new regime.
Realistically, however, one of the main factors behind the increase of prostitution amongst the Iraqi community in Syria was the lack of sustainable income and the desperate economic situation suffered by many Iraqi families, especially in the beginning of the massive immigration. Another cause was the brutal economic exploitation by some of Syrian landlords and security officials.
It does not seem that the Iraqi government has seriously looked at why many of its residents still dream of exile and stand in line for hours in front of foreign embassies for immigration visas, six years after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Nor has it openly dealt with the fact that Iraqis currently living in neighbouring countries want to go one step further away instead of returning to their home land.
The first step towards rebuilding the country should simply start with reconstructing the most crucial element in building a modern and civil society: trust. If trust amongst fellow Iraqis – between all its sects and ethnic groups – does not return, the seasonal migration which started in 2003 may become a permanent flow.
This article first appeared in Exponto Magazine. Copyright permission is granted by the author.