Monday, September 24, 2007

Regarding Iraqi Refugees

If the Iraqi refugee problem is not dealt with, it will likely "default" into precisely the conditions which have made the Palestinian issue so potent and so destabilizing over the decades: a large population of permanently de facto stateless persons spread across multiple Arab countries, whose personal and communal traumas resonate deeply with core political narratives (Arabist or Islamist or sectarian). Might they be expected at some point to form some kind of diasporic political movement like the PLO? Might they become a receptive audience for and instrument of new forms of transnational politics, mobilized by ambitious Arab leaders or movements against their host regimes? Could an Iraqi "state within a state" form in parts of Jordan or even Syria? Will these Iraqi refugees be eventually integrated into their societies, or will they be confined to refugee camps? Or will they become a UN mandate, along the lines of the uneasy UNRWA custody of the Palestinian refugees? Will they suffer the kinds of enforced marginalization experienced by Palestinians in Lebanon? Are these questions even being asked?

Marc Lynch points to the next big challenge facing world leaders, not just in the Levant but anywhere the seeds of extremism are taking root. The Iraq adventure has transformed one of history's most politically diverse countries into a churning, violent mess where the very population upon which a new and better society might be build is fleeing for safety. Reading Jon Alterman at CSIS we find this...

Iraq’s refugees give little sign of returning home, and it is no wonder why. Iraq continues to unravel, and life is especially dangerous for the cosmopolitan petit bourgeoisie whom many assumed would inherit post-Saddam Iraq. Today’s Iraq is no place for a doctor or a professor, especially one with a young family. Sectarianism plays in as well. Perhaps half of the refugees are Sunni Arabs, a group that represents about a fifth of the Iraqi population but had been the backbone of Saddam’s regime. They see their country sliding not only into Shi’a control, but to rule by a Shi’a mob that is bent on revenge.

In many ways, however, fleeing the country provides only a brief respite. Few refugees are allowed to work in their new homes, and savings are running out. Children are sometimes barred from school, and others go to schools bursting at the seams. Health care, when it is available, is often expensive. The refugee flow has dramatically boosted housing prices, not only raising costs for the new émigrés, but also squeezing the young and working class in countries such as Syria and Jordan who see affordable housing sliding beyond their grasp.

If anyone of prominence in America is concerned about the magnitude of this challenge I sure haven't read or heard about it. Maybe someone can set me straight. A teacher once said, "Anything I say in this class is important and might be on an exam. But if I take the trouble to write anything on the blackboard it is TOTALLY ESSENTIAL and you are responsible for knowing it."

With that in mind I urge the reader to pay attention to the material to which the Aardvark points and makes comments. This material is totally essential and you can depend on it...this will be on our next exam.

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