Can Angelina Jolie save Iraq’s desperate refugees?
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images How’s the surge going? The latest figures from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tell us that an average of 60,000 Iraqis a month are fleeing their homes in fear of their lives, an increase of 10,000 since the buildup of U.S. troops began in January. And who could blame them? We’ve already highlighted ...
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
How’s the surge going? The latest figures from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tell us that an average of 60,000 Iraqis a month are fleeing their homes in fear of their lives, an increase of 10,000 since the buildup of U.S. troops began in January. And who could blame them? We’ve already highlighted the recent BBC/ABC/NHK poll here on Passport, which revealed that as many as 70 percent of Iraqis feel less secure since the surge started.
What’s worse, escaping the violence has just gotten a lot harder. Until this Monday, neighboring Syria had allowed in any Iraqi without a visa for a six month period. Now, new visa regulations imposed by the Syrian government have made it so that every Iraqi—with the exception of academics and businessmen (and perhaps the odd insurgent)—must apply for a visa at the embassy in Baghdad’s al-Mansour district, an area prone to sectarian violence. The result? According to a UNHCR spokesman:
For the first time in months, if not years, UNHCR field workers visiting the Syrian-Iraq border yesterday found the crossing point virtually empty.
We shouldn’t be quick to point fingers at Syria. The estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living there have cost the Syrian government some $1 billion a year and have put undue strain on the country’s health, education, and housing services. An on-the-ground Brookings report revealed that in 2006, the state had to foot the bill for a 35 percent increase in subsidized bread as well as 30,000 new Iraqi students flooding the school systems. Syrian citizens blame the refugees for the recent spike in unemployment, cost of basic goods, and high rents in Damascus neighborhoods (in some places, rental prices have doubled or even tripled since the outbreak of the war). But despite UNHCR’s calls for international assistance, Syria has mostly been left to deal with the situation alone. U.N. officials have desperately been advocating the inclusion of a “humanitarian visa”—which would ensure that those fleeing persecution won’t be turned away because they don’t meet regular visa requirements—but it’s about time someone else lent a helping hand.
At least the refugees now have Angelina Jolie on their side. The actress visited refugees on the Iraq-Syria border at the end of August and demanded increased international support:
It is absolutely essential that the ongoing debate about Iraq’s future includes plans for addressing the enormous humanitarian consequences these people face.
Maybe she can get someone to pay attention.
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