Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

Posted in Broader Middle East | 10-Jul-08 | Source: International Crisis Group

Amman/Baghdad/Beirut/Damascus/Brussels, 10 July 2008: Although the security situation in Iraq shows progress, Iraqi refugees remain stranded, jobless and deprived of essential services, while the Iraqi government and the wider international community have failed in their responsibilities and are ill prepared to cope with a new refugee crisis, should it occur.

Failed Responsibiliites: Refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon,* the latest International Crisis Group report, recommends the Iraqi government, neighbours, the U.S., EU and wealthy Arab states act resolutely to address a humanitarian tragedy and political crisis. Up to five million Iraqis - nearly one in five - are believed to have fled, about half as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and half to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

“Iraq’s refugee crisis is one of the world’s worst”, says Peter Harling, Crisis Group Iraq, Syria and Lebanon Project Director. “Recent improvements in Iraq’s security could lead some to lower interest in the refugees, but this would be dangerously shortsighted”.

Expected in 2003 with the war’s onset, the crisis began two years later but was greater than anticipated. While initially welcoming their Iraqi brethren, Syria and Jordan soon put tough restrictions on entry. They provided few basic services and inadequate opportunities for jobs, health care and children’s education. There is a real risk that with little to lose and nothing to look forward to, refugees could become radicalised.

If the host countries can be faulted for unfriendly treatment of refugees, they deserve credit for receiving so many at great cost to their societies. By contrast, it is difficult to give the Iraqi government any credit. Flush with oil money, it has been conspicuously ungenerous toward its citizens stranded abroad. The attitude of Western nations also has been deeply troubling. This includes the U.S., which, while contributing more than most, has admitted few refugees and provided far less assistance than needed.

The Iraqi government should assume its responsibilities toward citizens turned refugees by stepping up direct and indirect support, providing a mechanism to support refugees willing to return and facilitating transfer of pensions and other allowances to state employees living abroad. Neighbouring states should do more to protect the most vulnerable, such as women, children and the aged, and provide schooling, health care and job opportunities. The U.S. should accelerate processing and resettlement and provide funding and technical support to Iraq and host countries.

“The refugee crisis presents a test that virtually all are failing”, says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Deputy Director. “Today, it is tempting to downplay the problem and bank on large returns. Instead, the exile period should be used to teach refugees new skills to facilitate their eventual social reintegration and contribution”.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

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The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.