In a conference held in Amman, Jordan today, officials from Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon discussed the issue of Iraqi refugees and the ways to provide more help for the neglected population in these countries. Officials from the UN, EU, Turkey and Iran attended as observers.
Like any other Arab countries conferences, this one was ended by issuing a statement urging the Iraqi government to “work on, and achieve, national unity and provide the right environment for the Iraqi refugees to return to their homes.” And one must wonder: So, what exactly are the Iraqi refugees going to get, after all those countries gathered under the name of Iraqi refugees and claiming to be working on finding ways to help them?
Jordan asked for more financial aid for the countries that are hosting Iraqi refugees. The Jordanian minister of foreign affairs told the conference that Jordan has spent more than two billion dollars to help Iraqi refugees in the last three years!
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When the Iraqi refugees go to Jordan, or any other country in the Middle East, they are not allowed to work. They don’t get free housing, they don’t qualify for health insurance and, until recently, the Iraqi refugees in Jordan were not allowed into the Jordanian school unless they have residency, which is very hard to get, if at all possible. The Iraqis have to spend their savings to live outside Iraq. Except for Syria, none of the hosting countries give the Iraqis ration food. The Iraqis have to pay as much as any of natives for food. The only different treatment the Iraqis get in the hosting countries is that they have to pay double or triple the rent!
What financial aid is Jordan and the other countries are asking about, and why?
In the conference too, representatives from the hosting countries also “renewed their commitment to support the Iraqi government’s efforts to improve the living standards and security situation inside Iraq, which will allow the refugees to return to their homes.”
One must wonder: What Iraqi government efforts?
When the Syria forced out thousands of Iraqis late last year and refused to renew their legal status in the country, the Iraqi government promised the refugees $800 gift when they return home and to help them go back safe to their neighborhoods. The refugees went back to find themselves homeless and displaced in their own country. They found their houses occupied by militia members and insurgents and were told to not go back to them ever. When they complained to the government, nothing happened. The government did not help them return to their homes. Now they are living with relatives and have no hope to take their properties back. And the $800 promised by the government was a lie!
There are more than two million Iraqis in neighboring and regional countries now and the same number of Iraqis displaced within the country, and the conference concentrated on the idea of: how wonderful it would be if Iraq was stable tomorrow and all the Iraqis will return safe and one piece! Preaching to the choir, if you will!
But the reality on the ground tells us that Iraqi will not be a stable country for a long time. It tells us that the Iraqi refugees have become refugees for a reason; they were all threatened in one way or another. They cannot go back to Iraq anytime soon, or they will be killed. There is no point of saying: If Iraq is a stable country. These are lives of people and the future of hundreds of thousands of children and young and bright Iraqis we are talking about here.
What the Iraqi refugees need now is not a conference to tell them how great it is if they went back to a stable Iraq, because there is no stable Iraq and will not be for a long time. What they need now is either be settled in the hosting countries, and the Iraqi government pays its dues and provide for them [we have oil and we have billions of dollars in the Iraqi government’s budget that are not spent and will not be spent on construction anytime soon], or be sent to a third country, where they can work and provide for themselves.
The refugees include doctors, teachers, engineers, journalists, poets and other intellectuals and professionals. I don’t see the bigger problem now, it will be in 15 and 20 years. When the toddlers now and the generations to come grow up and want to go to school and get education; who is going to teach them? Who is going to lead Iraq in 30 years? Read this.
We keep missing the story. We listen to Jordan officials, Syrian officials, American officials, UN officials and others. But have we listened enough to Iraqis, the Iraqi refugees themselves? Here is a story that we don’t hear about very often.