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Mainstream, Vol. XLVI, No 18

Problem of Iraqi Refugees and Western Responsibility

Tuesday 22 April 2008, by Mansoor Ali


There is at present growing response in the Arab world to the problem of Iraqi refugees that is acquiring a serious dimension with every passing day. Since the beginning of the second US invasion of Iraq in 2003, up to 3000 people have been leaving the country on a daily basis. According to the latest estimates, about 40,000 Iraqi refugees live in Lebanon, between 80,000 and 20,000 are in Egypt, and more than two million in Syria and Jordan.

In the wake of the Iraqi refugee influx, the authorities of the concerned states have to provide them accommodation, green cards with the right of further extension, medical facilities for the refugees in general and education for the children. Besides the increasing financial expenditure they have to bear due to this influx, the recipient countries face certain negative consequences as well: the crime rate is high; the prices of daily necessities of life are on the rise; there is pressure on the labour market on account of the presence of a large number of Iraqi citizens prepared to do any kind of job; inter-religious contradictions between Sunnis and Shias at their places of residence is getting aggravated as a result of the massive exodus from Iraq.

Thus all these culminate in mounting socio-economic tensions in the countries where the Iraqis have taken temporary refuge. And these tensions have generated a new crisis in West Asia.

In order to prevent the new critical situation from blowing out of proportion, the Secretariat of the League of Arab States (LAS) is busy drafting a resolution on the problem of settlement of the Iraqi refugees. It projects the need to unite the efforts of Arab nations to tackle the problem while appealing to the world community and the UN for financial support to the states that have accommodated the Iraqi refugees on their territories—in particular what is being suggested is taking decision at the level of the Council of the LAS’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make extraordinary financial allocations for helping the recipient countries create the necessary conditions for medical service and education for the Iraqi refugees.

What is, however, noteworthy is that against the backdrop of the accentuating crisis due to the incessant flow of the Iraqi refugees into the other Arab countries, those governments responsible for engendering the crisis (that is, Western governments led by the United States Administration) are trying their utmost to avoid rendering any substantial assistance to both the Iraqi refugees and those states which generously accommodated them on their territories in the true spirit of good neighbourliness and brotherhood. At the same time the Americans and their allies are persistently advancing the idea that the solution of the problem of the Iraqi refugees lies exclusively within the framework, jurisdiction and competence of the United Nations. Experts feel that in case Washington succeeds in shifting the financial burden—that should naturally be borne by the US and its partners in the Gulf War II—to the international organisation, it would result in considerable curtailment of the humanitarian programmes undertaken by the UN in the Third World countries.

What then should be done in the circumstances that have thrown up a ‘Catch 22’ situation for the world community? A considered view is gradually evolving across the globe bridging the political divides that the primary responsibility for the critical situation owing to the Iraqi refugees’ influx in the Arab world must be accepted by all those governments (of the West) which launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and are currently engaged in ensuring security in that country (incidentally that security itself is imperilled by the very presence of those Western states’ armed forces in the Gulf nation). These states, rather than the international body, must bear the major financial burden of creating proper living conditions for the Iraqi people who have taken shelter on the territory of the recipient countries and must also compensate for the expenses incurred by those countries on this score. The rich experience of UN participation in various humanitarian operations could be effectively employed in this specific instance to help exercise control over financial expenditures, enable the sides to keep their commitments, distribute aid among the refugees and extend information as well as logistic support to the donor states.

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