Monday, April 23, 2007

Into the Iraqi Diaspora

by Dahr Jamail and Tom Engelhardt

".......Recently, TomDispatch regular Dahr Jamail, who covered the war in Iraq from Baghdad for a while, visited some of the beleaguered refugee camps and centers in Syria that are trying to cope with the tens of thousands of desperate Iraqi refugees arriving each month. Jamail is a remarkable figure. A young man who originally went to the region on his own to cover the war, he gives "independent" journalism a name to be proud of. Our premier investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, said this of him recently, in offering criticism of American mainstream journalism's attribution practices at an al-Jazeera media conference:

"There is a young journalist here, Dahr Jamail, whose stuff has been very prescient, and I've four or five times included the brave accounts of some of his work in my stories. …".....

Since the shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, that country's explosive unraveling has never left the news or long been off the front page. Yet the fallout beyond its borders from the destruction, disintegration, and ethnic mayhem in Iraq has almost avoided notice. And yet with – according to United Nations estimates – approximately 50,000 Iraqis fleeing their country each month (and untold numbers of others being displaced internally), Iraq is producing one of the – if not the – most severe refugee crisis on the planet, a crisis without a name and without significant attention.

For the last two weeks, I've been in Syria, visiting refugee centers and camps, the offices and employees of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and poor neighborhoods in Damascus that are filling up with desperate, almost penniless Iraqi refugees, sometimes living 15 to a room. In statistical and human terms, these few days offered a small window into the magnitude of a catastrophe that is still unfolding and shows no sign of abating in any immediately imaginable future.

Let's start with the numbers, inadequate as they are. The latest UN figures concerning the refugee crisis in Iraq indicate that between 1-1.2 million Iraqis have fled across the border into Syria; about 750,000 have crossed into Jordan (increasing its modest population of 5.5 million by 14 percent); at least another 150,000 have made it to Lebanon; over 150,000 have emigrated to Egypt; and – these figures are the trickiest of all – over 1.9 million are now estimated to have been internally displaced by civil war and sectarian cleansing within Iraq.

These numbers are staggering in a population estimated in the pre-invasion years at only 26 million. At a bare minimum, in other words, at least one out of every seven Iraqis has had to flee his or her home due to the violence and chaos set off by the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq......"

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