Iraq’s refugee cri­sis

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Among the many tragic and in­trigu­ing ques­tions of the fu­ture of Iraq con­cerns the war-torn coun­try’s many mil­lions of refugees. Where they end up, how they are set­tled or re­set­tled, where, with what fi­nan­cial back­ing, against whose ob­jec­tions and with what se­cu­rity mea­sures make this a sub­ject of great im­port for the fu­ture of the Mid­dle East. Since the Iraq in­va­sion in 2003, at least 4.7 mil­lion Iraqis have been up­rooted. Iraq’s is thus one of the world’s great refugee crises, in league at least by the num­bers with ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian crises such as those in So­ma­lia, Su­dan, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo and Afghanistan.

About half of th­ese 4.7 mil­lion refugees re­main in Iraq as in­ter­nally dis­placed strangers in their own coun­try. Over two mil­lion have fled to neigh­bor­ing Syria and Jor­dan. Th­ese two coun­tries have born the great­est refugee in­flow, and, for that rea­son, seem likely to be key to any long-term res­o­lu­tion. Pock­ets of Iraqi refugees are scat­tered in other coun­tries. With the ex­cep­tion of Swe­den, West­ern na­tions — in­clud­ing the United States — have been re­luc­tant to ac­cept many Iraqis. West­ern na­tions have tended to ad­mit a few thou­sand here and a few hun­dred there. As is the case in the United States, ad­mis­sions tar­gets of sev­eral thou­sand per year are set. They are sub­se­quently un­der­mined by ad­min­is­tra­tive dif­fi­cul­ties, re­sult­ing in fewer ad­mit­tances.

Very likely the cal­cu­la­tion of West­ern gov­ern­ments is to de­mur on the sub­ject un­til the mo­ment that a clearer in­di­ca­tion of Iraq’s fu­ture emerges. This in­cludes the United States. Th­ese na­tions do not want to ac­cept a great in­flow of refugees to­day in the event that Iraqis in the fu­ture are able to re­turn to Iraq. Nor do they want to ac­cept them in the event that Syria and Jor­dan can be con­vinced to keep them, or are forced to keep them. The lat­ter op­tion might well be nec­es­sary in the event that Iraq never reaches a level of sta­bil­ity in which repa­tri­a­tion could oc­cur.

Of course, the ideal sce­nario is premised on a fu­ture peace­ful Iraq that is stable and safe for refugee re­turn. But as Syria and Jor­dan can both at­test, repa­tria- tion re­mains a dis­tant goal. The more im­me­di­ately at­tain­able sce­nario in­volves re­set­tle­ment in those two coun­tries. In some re­spects, for rea­sons of ge­og­ra­phy and geopol­i­tics, it may al­ready be fated that th­ese two coun­tries will be forced into this out­come in the event that re-set­tle­ment can­not oc­cur.

In the past, Jor­dan has come un­der fire for re­fer­ring to its Iraqis as “vis­i­tors,” not refugees. Syria, mean­while, most likely views its record of cross-border ex­ac­er­ba­tion of Amer­i­can trou­bles in Iraq as one of its few chits in the even­tual res­o­lu­tion of this sub­ject.

Look for the ques­tion of Iraqi refugees to be set­tled as a mat­ter of ex­pe­di­ency, as such ques­tions usu­ally are.

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