Or, as The Dick put it, "the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the campaign that liberated the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's tyranny."
I will not go into what I think of this war. That is for any other day. But I received an IRC newsletter today, and it contained a set statistics that cannot be highlighted enough.
The Iraqi refugee crisis is one of enormous scale, and today it is the fastest growing refugee emergency in the world. The statistics are alarming:
- 60,000 — Iraqi refugees fleeing their homes every month, mostly because they have been threatened with death, torture, or kidnapping
- 4,400,000 — displaced Iraqis
- 220,000 — displaced Iraqi children who have stopped going to school
- 12,000 — United States goal for the number resettled Iraqi refugees to enter the country in FY 2008
- 1,432 — Iraqi refugees actually resettled in the United States in 2008 so far.
Okay...let's break that down then, shall we?
60,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes every month.
These are people who found themselves threatened for such heinous crimes as 'trying to make a living', or 'trying to do their job'. Examples of this include people who worked for the Americans (in any capacity, but I would assume translators get the worst of it), journalists, and even male gynaecologists.
4,400,000 displaced Iraqis.
The number is actually pretty hard to estimate, but it's probably in the ballpark. The figure includes internally displaced Iraqis as well as the refugees who fled to neighbouring countries. Estimates for the total number of refugees speak of 1-2 million, who fled in two major waves - during the period of sanctions against Iraq and after the bombing of the Askari Mosque in Samarra in Feb 2006.
220,000 displaced Iraqi children who have stopped going to school.
They stopped because it's too dangerous for them to leave the house, or, if they are refugees, because their parents can't afford to send them to school. There is probably also a number of them who can't go to school because they are too traumatised.
12,000 - United States goal for the number of resettled Iraqi refugees in FY 2008
To put this in perspective: The official target for FY 2007 was to resettle 7,000 Iraqis...they managed to resettle 1,608. On the upside, in the first four months of this new fiscal year, they have already managed to resettle 1,432 Iraqis. Will they do better than last year? Sure. Will they reach their target? Not likely. To be fair, State Dept and Dept of Homeland Security have conceded that they may not make it. On the other hand...131,000 Vietnamese were successfully resettled between May and December 1975 alone (over 900,000 in total), and more than 150,000 Bosnian refugees were accepted during the Bosnia conflict.
Some more anything-but-fun facts about Iraqi refugees:
Of all the surrounding countries, only Lebanon permits Iraqi refugees to work. Elsewhere, particularly in Jordan and Syria, the refugees are forced to live in desperate poverty, hidden from the authorities, and oftentimes without legal status. In order to receive help from the UNHCR, they have to come out of hiding and get registered, which is difficult and can lead to imprisonment or deportation, while chances for successful resettlement are relatively small.
In other cases, refugees come together in refugee camps, which means that they can be registered and receive support from the aid organisation administering the camp. For Iraqi refugees, there are no camps, with the people instead spattered across urban areas (e.g. Eastern Amman). This makes it difficult for aid organisations to reach them, let alone provide any sort of systematic, ongoing support structures.
Their situation also means that they are exposed to hostility from the host population. Eastern Amman is a poor area, and the people there blame Iraqis for their poverty. Jordan has been generous in accommodating large numbers of refugees before, and it has caused the country a number of difficulties. It is not surprising that Jordanians should be wary of more of the same happening. Also, let's not forget that, thanks to Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are probably not the most popular to begin with.
The host countries' ambivalence towards the refugees also makes it difficult for aid agencies trying to help, as anybody who wants to support the Iraqis is met with mistrust.
As for repatriation (which has been widely reported on by the media), according to UNHCR only two families have returned from Syria, and few have returned from Jordan. Most refugees seem to find the idea inconceivable (and who can blame them?), and many of those who try turn back almost immediately when they find their homes occupied by others or their neighbourhoods unsafe.
So...on this anniversary, I wish Iraq and its people FEW UNHAPPY RETURNS.
May the nightmare end soon.