In The Moderate Voice, Dorian De Wind writes about the contrast between the American response to Vietnamese refugees and Iraqi ones. He writes:
America and Americans opened up their hearts and arms to this “first wave” of Vietnamese refugees. (Hundreds of thousands of additional Vietnamese would be given refuge in our country during the next 10 years.) Within a few months the refugees were resettled in communities throughout the U.S. Thousands were graciously welcomed by Americans into their own homes; thousands more were “sponsored” by social and welfare organizations and provided with jobs. The vast majority would become hard-working, productive, loyal and grateful residents of our country.
A model, indeed, for what the US response to the current Iraqi refugee crisis could be.
The Christian Science Monitor has recently reported about the aid given to the Jordanian government to boost their resources to provide services to its Iraqi refugee population. According to the article, the UNHCR gave 61% of its operational budget to Jordan in 2007. For example, the UNHCR gave $10 million to the Jordanian education ministry, the European Community gave $39 million, and USAID gave $8 million to support the education of Iraqi refugees. But the article notes the following:
But for the 2007-08 school year, fewer than 20,000 Iraqi students were enrolled in the public schools. While the yearly cost of educating a student was estimated by the government at about $800 a year, Jordan received more than $2,100 in aid for every Iraqi student in 2007.
Another area where the Jordanian government has received aid for Iraqis is in the health sector. The article relates:
UNHCR gave another $10 million to Jordan’s Health Ministry in 2007. Given this support, Jordan said Iraqis could get primary healthcare in public hospitals at low fees. Many of the poorest still go to nongovernmental clinics run by UNHCR’s partners, where care is free.
What the article implies is that this aid that is ostensibly for Iraqi refugees is ending up benefiting the Jordanian ministries. Countries that welcome Iraqi refugees ought to be helped with the burden this population presents on the country’s resources but the aid given also must be carefully monitored. Given that the UNHCR is suffering from serious shortfalls in funding from international donor countries, it ought to be very discriminate about where and how its aid is used.
Furthermore, a new photography book entitled, Silent Exodus: Portraits of Iraqi Refugees in Exile, will come out in October, 2008. The photographer, Zalmai, documented the lives of Iraqis in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon and the introduction is written by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. A photograph from the collection is featured below.