Friday, June 27, 2008

Responding to the Displacement Crisis

Today's editorial from the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq highlights the need for the international community and the government of Iraq to address the root causes of the displacement crisis.

"The Iraqi authorities and the international community have been rendered in a difficult situation, facing a unique situation of a massive humanitarian crisis amidst a post-conflict early recovery context; adaptation took a long time and the response has been more of a treatment of symptoms than the root causes."

The steps necessary are outlined in the document 'Healing the Wounds of War.'

Responding to the Iraqi displacement problem:
A ‘National Priority’ that will lead to ‘National Unity’
NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI): Editorial, 26 June 2008

During the past five years, Iraq witnessed a horrific and overwhelming wave of displacement that affected almost all Iraqi communities; according to reports from The UN, IOM, and the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, there are currently 2.7 Million Iraqis displaced in Iraq and estimates of another 2 Millions displaced in neighbouring countries and an alarming increasing in numbers of Iraqis seeking refuge in Europe and North America. Roughly, 20% of the population of Iraq are displaced; this makes it the biggest displacement crisis in the world today.

Displacement is not new to Iraq. Throughout the last three decades, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by wars, internal conflicts and oppression, in addition to natural disasters and economic reasons; these displaced groups grasped the opportunity they saw in the aftermath of the US led invasion back in 2003 to return to their country and to try to integrate within their society and re-start their lives, unfortunately in the absence of durable solutions and political will, and as a result of prevailing violence and sectarianism, they found themselves being displaced again, and again, and gain …and again.

The Iraqi authorities and the international community have been rendered in a difficult situation, facing a unique situation of a massive humanitarian crisis amidst a post-conflict early recovery context; adaptation took a long time and the response has been more of a treatment of symptoms than the root causes.

Iraqis who have moved to countries neighbouring Iraq are living daily with the fear of deportation and are being used as political leverage, their vulnerability is worsened by the fact that they too have spent their savings and lost their properties, investments and businesses and are living with very little external assistance from the international community despite their well-publicised situation. Iraqis who have applied for asylum in European or North American countries have been hanging in a limbo for a long time due to international politics and prejudices4, living in fear of forced return to a country they love with all their hearts and fear with all their senses.

Despite the well-publicised improvement in the security situation in different parts of the country, additional problems are preventing the return of the displaced; 70% of homes left empty by displaced families have been occupied by other families or damaged in armed conflict or sectarian-motivated rival attacks, previously mixed communities have become homogenous and not receptive to the idea of people from other sects or ethnicities return, families that were displaced have started to integrate within their host communities and are reluctant to risk returning to their original places, in addition to hesitance on how long the fragile improvement in security will last and the fact that these families do not want to risk facing the same threats and terror they have experienced and that led them to become displaced.

Third country nationals, such as Sudanese, Palestinians, Iranians, Turks and others, who have sought refuge in Iraq in the past are not in a better situation, they find themselves extremely vulnerable and helpless in a situation that has been forced on them, they feel intimidated and threatened by the conflict of the past five years.

NGOs, ICRC, UN agencies and other charities have considered assistance of the displaced a priority, they focused the majority of their operations in/on Iraq to assist vulnerable groups within the displaced populations, yet the gap is too big to fill; in the absence of international and governmental support to displaced groups and their strained host communities, the situation will only lead to dramatic ‘snow-ball’ effects on the stability, welfare and hopes of the Iraqi society.

Humanitarian assistance to the displaced continues to be the overarching priority; the savings that many of those displaced have depended upon to pay for rent and expenses have started to run out, impoverishment and vulnerability are now common complaints among displaced communities, food insecurity is a challenge resulting from the lack of coping mechanisms; the need for protection from violence and evictions has increased in view of the deterioration of security conditions and weariness of local authorities in parts of the country that were seen as save havens for people in need of safety … and dignity.

We take the opportunity of the ‘World Refugee Day’ to call on the international community to provide more assistance and durable solutions to Iraqis displaced inside or refugees outside Iraq.
We also call on the Iraqi Government to consider the displacement crisis a ‘National Priority’ that over-rides al other challenges and benchmarks.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Books, Not Bombs

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed piece in the New York Times that focuses on Iraqi refugees.

“American hawks prefer to address the region’s security challenges by devoting billions of dollars to permanent American military bases. A simpler way to fight extremism would be to pay school fees for refugee children to ensure that they at least get an education and don’t become forever marginalized and underemployed.

We broke Iraq, and we have a moral responsibility to those whose lives have been shattered by our actions. Helping them is also in our national interest, for we’ll regret our myopia if we allow young Iraqi refugees to grow up uneducated and unemployable, festering in their societies.”
Books, Not Bombs
By: Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 25 June 2008

There are some very interesting Comments.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Today is World Refugee Day

Cause and Effect

Last night the US House of Representatives approved $162 billion for the war and occupation of Iraq*. It is the largest war funding bill since the invasion, and when passed by the Senate will guarantee war funding well into year six.

We know what the results will be.

The war and occupation has led to the largest refugee flow in the Middle East since the establishment of Israel and the forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

The trends speak for themselves.

· For the second year in a row the number of refugees world-wide has increased.
· The increase has been driven by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Action Step: Join us in sending a letter to your local paper drawing attention to this crisis.

Below is a sample letter with tips – and links - on how to send that letter to the editor of your local paper.

Is Your Newspaper Covering the Iraqi Refugee Crisis?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iraqi Voices

Some reflections from Iraqis on the eve of world refugee day.

Daniela Cavini has a moving profile of a former employee of CARE International in Baghdad, Ali al-Fadily moves us towards family and the interruption of war, and this week’s editorial from the NGO coordination Committee in Iraq runs a story about a life in Iraq.

Sadly, these types of stories – the human face of war - are all too often ignored by most coverage of the war.

IRAQ: The Love Stories Are Gone
Ali al-Fadhily, IPS, 14 June

This is the land of the Arabian Nights, and of love stories that became fables far and wide. In these stories, in the traditions of which they were born, the lover thought nothing of giving up his life for a beloved. But no one thought death would come to this land under the present circumstances.

We belong to the past, there is no future for us in Iraq
Daniela Cavini, ECHO Regional Information Officer, 19 June

Only four years ago Jamil Abdullatif, 44, had a decent job, a house in Baghdad, two cars and a normal life. He was the driver and logistician of CARE International, a humanitarian aid organization established in Iraq since 1991. For years he had been driving aid workers around his country, to provide food and health assistance to vulnerable Iraqis, mostly children.

A life in Iraq: An ordinary woman’s story
NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq, Editorial 19 June 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

World Refugee Day: Naseer Shamma Benefit Concert in Damascus for Iraqi Refugees

DAMASCUS: Acclaimed Iraqi oud (lute) player Naseer Shamma has raised more than USD 24,000 for UNHCR's Iraqi refugee program with a concert at the Opera House to mark World Refugee Day, which falls on Friday.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Vision of Peace

You've probably heard a lot about the Iraq war. But you've probably never heard of 8-year-old Rasool, who lost his father, his home and his eyesight to the war. He and his mother are among hundreds of thousands of families who represent the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and one of today's most under-reported stories. The mainstream media does not tell their stories. But AFSC does.

Two years ago, Rasool implored his mother to let him leave their Baghdad home for a quick trip to a nearby store for some candy. After resisting his pleas, she finally relented, figuring that a decline in violence in their neighborhood made such a short trip safe.

Instead, Rasool walked into a firefight. A bullet struck him in the head, leaving him blind in one eye and with severely reduced vision in the other. There was no hospital for his mother to take him to; instead, she brought her wounded son home.

Last year, AFSC St. Louis hosted Noah Merrill, a journalist and expert on the Iraq refugee crisis. His analysis and firsthand experience brought a coherent sense of the big picture as well as the human faces of this crisis. Noah told stories about some of the millions of Iraqi refugees displaced inside Iraq and living in neighboring countries. He told us about Rasool.

Rasool's mother did all she could to seek medical care for her son, making three risky and expensive trips to Jordan to seek help. But she couldn't afford the cost of care.

Noah's story about Rasool moved me deeply. Here was a cute kid with a shy little face and ears sticking out. Last year, Rasool's father was missing, and the only thing keeping his mom going was the hope that Rasool's vision could be brought back.

I contacted the local chapter of Healing the Children, a nonprofit organization which helps children from around the world receive the medical care they need. HTC's director, Kathy Corbett, agreed to do all she could to help Rasool. I relayed the happy news to Noah.

But when Noah called Rasool's mom to tell her, he learned that Rasool's father had been found dead. As Kathy Corbett told Sylvester Brown of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It was devastating. A child and mother with so much pain, now had even more pain. It made me even more determined to help this family."

And so, as a direct result of Noah's visit and the generosity he engendered, Rasool will travel in June to receive eye surgery at St. Louis Children's Hospital. AFSC and HTC are trying to find a host family for him and his mom. Their stay here could last several months.

I hope to meet Rasool and his mom when they come to St. Louis. I want to embrace Rasool and let his mother know that she is not alone in her struggle for her family. I want her to know we all share a restored vision of peace.

By Lori Reed, St. Louis International Affairs Program Director

[Ed note: Rasool has arrived in St. Louis and is receiving preliminary tests for surgery]

### END ###

To see the full article with pictures, look at the newsletter below – page 6.

A Vision of Peace
By Lori Reed, St. Louis International Affairs Program Director
Central Region News and Views – Summer 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Connecticut Church Helps Resettle Iraqi Family

Are you ready to help? Are you ready to move fast?

The Reverend W. Evan Golder maps out the needs as represented by one Iraqi family being resettled in the U.S.

Connecticut Church Helps Resettle Iraqi Family
By W. Evan Golder, United Church of Christ, June/July 2008

“Little notice, big welcome:

Two weeks.

That's all the time Iraqi refugees Hisham Ahmed Kadhim and his wife, Maysaa Lelo, both in their 20s, had to prepare for a life-changing move with their 2-year-old son from Amman, Jordan, to a new life in the United States.

Two weeks.

That's all the time Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, Conn., had to find a host group to help resettle this Iraqi refugee family.

Two weeks.

That's all the time the informal refugee resettlement committee at Spring Glen UCC in Hamden, Conn., had to locate a vacant apartment near a bus line, come up with the first month's rent and security deposit, and completely furnish this new home by the time the refugee family stepped off the plane.

Two weeks was all anyone had.”

Iraqi Refugee Crisis Grows Worse as West Turns it’s back

Writing for the Independent, Kim Sengupta documents an Iraqi refugee crisis that continues to grow worse.

“The Iraqi diaspora is now one of the largest in modern times, with more than two million people fleeing abroad. But the ferocious strife and the breakdown in law and order have led to another wave of about 2.7 million fleeing their homes but unable to escape the country. Many of these have moved to Baghdad, putting further strain on a shattered infrastructure and adding to the city's sectarian tensions. The situation in terms of numbers and conditions for the displaced people has deteriorated dramatically in the past two years, Amnesty claims.”

Rhetoric and Reality: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis (New Report)
Amnesty International, June 2008

Iraqi Refugees Facing Desperate Situation
Amnesty International Iraq home page, features video clips and links to other documents.