Monday, July 23, 2007

Despair at Sayyida Zeinab: Iraqi Refugee Crisis at Crossroads

The war in Iraq was an illegal boondoggle. Hundreds of thousands have died or been terribly injured and/or maimed. Thousands have been tortured. And, barely reported on the television screens and front-pages of America, hundreds of thousands -- well over a million -- refugees have fled Iraq for the dismal "safety" of refugee camps in Syria, the only country that will take in refugees from the Iraq War. Jordan, which had taken in over half a million refugees fleeing the Americans and the sectarian civil war, not to mention the criminal lawlessness that has plagued much of the country, has now closed its borders to refugees from Iraq.

Hugh Naylor, at the foreign service desk at the San Francisco Chronicle, has written a compelling story on the crisis, drawing upon wire service stories and the like: Refugee Crisis in Syria Enters New, Dire Phase. (For another look at the Iraq refugee crisis, see the Washington Post's article earlier this year, "Iraq Refugees Overwhelm Syria".) Naylor writes:

For the first few years of the war, many of the estimated 1.4 million refugees eked out a living from savings and remittance payments from families still living in Iraq. But savings are rapidly drying up.

Forbidden to work in Syria, the refugees find that money coming from Iraq is all but gone, now that family members there have lost jobs and sold off their valuables.

"The situation has escalated," said Laurens Jolles, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative to Syria.

Last May, Maccabee wrote a diary giving Frank Rich's analysis on the growing humanitarian disaster. Quoting Rich:

Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave "God’s gift of freedom."

It’s easy to see why. To admit that Iraqis are voting with their feet is to concede that American policy is in ruins.

Naylor's story concentrates on the refugee camp at Sayyida Zeinab in Syria, "a dusty warren of dilapidated buildings on the outskirts of Damascus where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis now reside." Naylor's article describes the hundreds or thousands of human beings dragging themselves around the camp, still sporting bullet wounds and other injuries from the war, too poor or too isolated to get medical attention, putting off medical care for major illnesses and wounds in order to scrape together a little food for their families.

But it's not as if they could go to their nearest emergency room. Ten thousand or more souls are pouring over the Syrian border every week, and there's almost nothing there for them. Of a $60 million budget for the entire region, only $14 million has been allocated to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for Syria.

During several interviews, Iraqi refugees complained that they haven't seen U.N. personnel for months. One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said many have given up on international humanitarian organizations.

"There is no point, they aren't even providing basic health care here," she said. "Only around 100,000 of the official 1.4 million Iraqis are registered with the UNHCR.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress play at opposition, with all the courage of a man risking a sleepless night. The GOP... well, forget it. They are totally engulfed in the web of the infallible leader(s), which is George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, take your pick.

Millions Made Into Miserable Pawns

Reuters reports that over 2 million Iraqis have fled the country since the war started, and approximately another 2 million are internally displaced. The same article shows that Iraqi refugees are quickly turning into the pariahs of the refugee world. The once social democratic European countries, who claimed to oppose the American war, have come under intense criticism from some human rights groups:

The campaign group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticised Germany's move earlier this year to revoke the refugee status of over 18,000 Iraqis, saying Iraq was still too violent and unstable to send people back there....

[While Swede's] migration board decided last week that Iraqis seeking asylum must prove they face personal risk in their homeland to avoid being sent back.

The Palestianians have lived in refugee camps for decades, the pawns of an intractable political conflict between different nationalist groupings and the Israeli state. Now, millions of Iraqi refugees are being thrown into the maw of endless war, nationalist and sectarian rivalry and power-grabs, and an imperialist striving for supremacy. Even the religious fundamentalists must realize how weak they must seem among their putative followers.

Only a socialist perspective, that seeks to unite the toilers and oppressed of all religions, nationalities, and nations, stands a chance of winning over the disaffected and posing a new hope of another way. It's less than a generation since the fall of the sclerotic Stalinist Soviet state, which had fought against a world-wide socialist order for decades. Now maybe we are ready to reconsider unfolding the banner that called for the oppressed and weak of the world to unite against all their oppressors.

Feels too radical? Well, the non-socialist perspective is becoming clearer and clearer: more death, more religious fanaticism, more displaced people, more invasions, more torture, more war.

How You Can Help

In the meantime, if you want to help, check out the website of the UN Refugee Agency, and donate if you can. Or donate to your local refugee center, or torture relief agency. Speak out against the criminal Iraq war. Read. Educate yourself. And put maximum pressure on this do-nothing Democratic Congress. Think of the thousands of suffering children at Sayyida Zeinab and camps just like it.

The invisibility of this issue from the everyday U.S. press is astounding. I am reminded of the lyric from Bob Dylan's classic song, Hurricane:

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties / Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise

How much suffering do the struggling people of this planet have to stand before the American people bring their corrupt and venal leadership to the dock of universal justice, until they begin to ACT with the integrity of a great people, and not like the denizens of a degenerate empire?

No comments:

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.