Refugees of Iraq

Refugees of Iraq

Throughout the past 100 years, there have been a growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and settling throughout the world, peaking recently with the latest Iraq War. The Iran–Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, the 1990 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait, the first Gulf War and subsequent conflicts all generated hundreds of thousands if not millions of refugees. Iran also provided asylum for 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees who had been uprooted as a result of the Persian Gulf War (1990–91).The United Nations estimates that nearly 2.2 million Iraqis have fled the country since 2003, [ [ UN warns of five million Iraqi refugees] ] with nearly 100,000 fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month. [ [ U.N.: 100,000 Iraq refugees flee monthly] . Alexander G. Higgins, "Boston Globe," November 3, 2006] [ Take Iraqi refugees in] ]

According to UNHCR estimates, over 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. [ [ UNHCR | Iraq] ] The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is the worst in the Middle East since Palestinians were displaced in 1948. [ [ Invaders and allies ignore Iraq's humanitarian crisis] ,] In FY 2007, the U.S. resettled 1608 Iraqi refugees. [ [ U.S. lets in fewer Iraqi refugees, not more] ,] Just one in six of all the Iraqis seeking asylum in the United Kingdom is accepted. [ [ Just one in six of Iraq's refugees is accepted] ]

Iraq War

Refugees from Iraq have increased in number since the US-led invasion into Iraq in March 2003. [ [ Iraq refugees chased from home, struggle to cope] ] An estimated 1.6-2.0 million people have fled the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in a report released in November 2006 that more than 1.6 million Iraqis had left Iraq since March 2003, nearly 7 percent of the total population. The BBC on 22 January 2007 placed the refugee figure at 2 million. By 16 February 2007, António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the external refugee number reached 2 million and that within Iraq there are an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people. The refugee traffic out of the country has increased since the intensification of civil war. [ [ Warnings of Iraq refugee crisis] ] [ Interview with António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, 16 February 2007, Weekend Edition-Saturday, [ Millions Leave Home in Iraqi Refugee Crisis] ]

As of April 29, 2008, the UNHCR estimated that over 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced, with 2.7 million within Iraq and 2 million in neighboring countries. [ [ UNHCR - Iraq: Latest return survey shows few intending to go home soon] . Published April 29, 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2008.]

Most ventured to Jordan and Syria, creating demographic shifts that have worried both governments. A fear persisted in both countries, and others hosting sizable Iraqi refugee populations, that sectarian tensions would spill over amongst the exiles. These refugees were estimated to have been leaving Iraq at a rate of 3000-per-day by December 2006.

Roughly 40% of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled, the U.N. said. Most are fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return. [ [ 40% of middle class believed to have fled crumbling nation] ] Refugees are mired in poverty as they are generally barred from working in their host countries. [ [ Doors closing on fleeing Iraqis] ] [ [ Iraq's middle class escapes, only to find poverty in Jordan] ] In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 Iraqi girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive. [ [ '50,000 Iraqi refugees' forced into prostitution] ] [ [ Iraqi refugees forced into prostitution] ]

ectarian violence

Entire neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni militias and sectarian violence has broken out in every Iraqi city where there is a mixed population. [ [ Sects slice up Iraq as US troops 'surge' misfires] ] Sunnis have fled Basra, while Shias were driven out of cities and towns north of Baghdad such as Samarra or Baquba. [ [ Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold] ] [ [ "There is ethnic cleansing"] ] Satellite shows ethnic cleansing in Iraq was key factor in "surge" success. [ [ Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq] , Reuters, September 19, 2008] Some areas are being evacuated by every member of a particular secular group due to lack of security, moving into new areas because of fear of reprisal killings. [ [ Iraq refugees chased from home, struggle to cope] ] [ [ U.N.: 100,000 Iraq refugees flee monthly] . Alexander G. Higgins, "Boston Globe," November 3, 2006] As of 2007, the title "Kidnapping Capital of the World" belongs to Baghdad. [ ]

For decades, Saddam Hussein 'Arabised' northern Iraq. [ [ _Toc78803800Forced Displacement and Arabization of Northern Iraq] ] Now his ethnic cleansing is being reversed. [ [ Iraq Ethnic Cleansing Archives] ] Thousands of ethnic Kurds pushed into lands formerly held by Iraqi Arabs, forcing at least 100,000 of them to flee to refugee camps. [ [ THE REACH OF WAR: NORTHERN IRAQ; KURDS ADVANCING TO RECLAIM LAND IN NORTHERN IRAQ] , New York Times] Sunni Arabs have driven out at least 70,000 Kurds from the Mosul’s western half. [ [ Sunni Arabs driving out Kurds in northern Iraq] ] Nowadays, eastern Mosul is Kurdish and western Mosul is Sunni Arab. [ [ The other Iraqi civil war] , Asia Times] The policies of Kurdification by KDP and PUK after 2003 (with non-Kurds being pressures to move, in particular Assyrian Christians and Iraqi Turkmen) have prompted serious inter-ethnic problems. [Stansfield, Gareth. (2007). Iraq: People, History, Politics. p71]

Host countries

United States

A May 25, 2007 article notes that in the past seven months only 69 people from Iraq have been granted refugee status in the United States. [cite news|last=McFeatters|first=Ann|title=Iraq refugees find no refuge in America|publisher=Seattle Post-Intelligencer|date=2007-05-25|url=] In fiscal year 2006, just 202 refugees from Iraq were allowed to resettle in the United States. [cite news|last=Strobel|first=Warren P.|title=US Faced with a Mammoth Iraq Refugee Crisis|publisher=McClatchy Newspapers|url=] [cite news|last=Tavernise|first=Sabrina|coauthors=Robert F. Worth|title=Few Iraqis Are Gaining U.S. Sanctuary|publisher=New York Times|date=2007-01-02|url= ] As a result of growing international pressure, on June 1, 2007 the Bush administration said it was ready to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees who had helped the coalition since the invasion. In 2006, 1.27 million immigrants were granted legal permanent residence in the U.S., including 70,000 refugees. [cite web|title=Inflow of foreign-born population by country of birth, by year|work=MPI Data Hub|publisher=Migration Policy Institute|url=|format=database ] According to Washington based Refugees International the U.S. has admitted fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees since the invasion, Sweden had accepted 18,000 and Australia almost 6,000. [cite news|last=Reid|first=Tim|title=US in Iraq for 'another 50 years'|publisher=The Australian|date=2007-06-02|url=,20867,21835052-2703,00.html ] As many as 110,000 Iraqis could be targeted as collaborators because of their work for coalition forces. [cite news|last=Hsu|first=Spencer S.|publisher=Washington Post|date=2007-07-22|url=|title=Ambassador wants more visas for loyal Iraqis]


Jordan had taken in roughly 750,000 Iraqi refugees since the war began by December 2006. Jordan had been criticized by human rights organizations for not classifying the newcomers by the title "refugee" and instead labeled them "visitors," disinclining the Jordanian government from extending to the Iraqis the same benefits enjoyed by 1.5 million Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan.

Jordanians expressed resentment to the newcomers, built up since the influx of refugees during and following the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991. Then, affluent Iraqis arrived and invested in the Jordanian economy, sending prices soaring too high for many working class or lower class Jordanians. Following the 2003 war and subsequent reconstruction, the arrival of mostly poor Iraqis compounded problems, increasing demand and applying more pressure on the Jordanian economy.

The government had also been accused of cracking down on Shiite activities in the country while allowing Sunni Iraqis to carry on their lives without harassment from the government. The authorities denied any discrimination, claiming it treated any illicit activity by Sunnis or Shiites from Iraq equally.


Syria had taken in roughly a million refugees by December 2006, with it possible as many as half of them were Iraqi ChristiansFact|date=November 2007. Most of them had settled in and around the city and suburbs of Damascus. The reason for its large refugee population can be attributed to more than just geography. Syria maintained an open-door policy to Iraqis fleeing the war-ravaged country.

Syrian authorities worried that the new influx of refugees would limit the country's resources. Sources like oil, heat, water and electricity were said to be becoming more scarce as demand had gone up. [ [ Displaced Iraqis running out of cash, and prices are rising] ]

In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 refugee girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive. Cheap Iraqi prostitutes have helped to make Syria a popular destination for sex tourists. The clients come from wealthier countries in the Middle East - many are Saudi men. [cite news|title=Iraqi Refugees Turn To Prostitution|publisher=CBS Evening News|date=2007-02-07|url= ]

Restrictions on refugees

On October 1, 2007 news agencies reported that the Syrian government decided to implement a strict visa regime to limit the number of Iraqis pouring into the country at up to 5,000 per day, cutting the only accessible escape route for thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Iraq. Under Syria's new rules, only Iraqi merchants, businessmen and university professors with visas acquired from Syrian embassies may enter Syria. ["Syria shuts border to Iraqi refugees - UNHCR" "Reuters"] [Laura Zuber, "Syrian visa restrictions "trap" Iraqi refugees," "" of Italy] ["Syria restores visa limits" "BBC News"] Until then, Syria was the only country resisting strict entry regulations for Iraqis. [cite news|title=Syria to restricts Iraqi refugee influx|publisher=Reuters|date=2007-09-03|url= ] [ [ New visa rules staunch flow of Iraqi refugees into Syria - UN official] ]


Egypt, which does not border Iraq, became a major destination for Iraqi refugees in 2006. As of December, the refugee population was approaching 150,000, 50 percent more than early October. Only 800 refugees were in Egypt in 2003. [SALAH NASRAWI, " [ Refugees protest restrictions in Mideast] ," Associated Press, Dec. 04, 2006] In 2007, Egypt imposed restrictions on the entry of new refugees into the country.



About 120,000 Iraqi Jews fled Iraq and have moved to Israel in 1951. over the next decades, the community would further dwindle down to an estimate of no more than a 100 in 2008.


Perhaps as many as half a million Iraqi Christians Assyrians are thought to have fled the sectarian fighting in Iraq, with Christians bearing the brunt of animosity toward a perceived "crusade" by the United States in Iraq. Most chose to go to Syria due to the cultural similarities between the two countries, Syria's open-door policy to Iraqis, and the large population of Assyrians and other Christians in the country which perhaps totals as high as 2 million. The large influx of Iraqis may tip the demographic scale in a country with a diverse population. [ [ Many Christians Flee Iraq] ] [ [ Iraq's Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens] ] Although Christians represent less than 5% of the total Iraqi population, they make up 40% of the refugees now living in nearby countries, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. [ [ Christians, targeted and suffering, flee Iraq] ] Between October 2003 and March 2005 alone, 36% of 700,000 Iraqis who fled to Syria were Assyrians and other Christians, judging from a sample of those registering for asylum on political or religious grounds. [ [ U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Background Information on the Situation of Non-Muslim Religious Minorities in Iraq (Oct. 2005)] ] [ [ Assyrians Face Escalating Abuses in "New Iraq," Inter-Press Service (May 3, 2006)] ] ["Incipient Genocide"] [Doug Bandow, "Thrown to the Lions," "The American Spectator," July 2, 2007] [ "In Twenty Years there will be No Christians in Iraq" "The Guardian",,1888848,00.html]


Mandaeans are an ancient ethnoreligious group in southern Iraq. [ [ Mandaeans persecuted in Iraq] ] They are the last practicing gnostic sect in the Middle East. There are thought to have been about 40,000 Mandaeans in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion. As a non-Muslim group, they have been abused by sectarian militias. The vast majority of Baghdadi Mandaeans left Baghdad many have fled to Syria, Jordan and elsewhere [ Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction'] , Angus Crawford, BBC, March 4, 2007.] while Mandaean communities of southern Iraq are still more or less secure with the exception of Basra where the Mandaean Manda (Temple) was attacked by an unknown militia. Mandaean diaspora organizations are reportedly focusing all their resources on evacuating all the remaining Mandaeans in IraqFact|date=October 2007.

Being such a small community the Mandaeans do not enjoy the same militia protection and this has left them vulnerable to the extremist elements in both the Sunni and Shia communities. This has led to numerous instances of torture, rape, theft and murder. [, Iraq chaos threatens ancient faith] ]

These very real threats coupled with the inability of the US and Iraqi government to offer protection has resulted in the Mandaean population falling from circa 50,000 to less than 13,000 (September 2005) and 5,000 (March 2007) ethnically cleansing them from Iraqi society.


A small Palestinian population of about 38,000 also faced pressure, with many living in the Baghdadi neighborhood of al-Baladiya.

Denied access by Syria, more than 350 Palestinians remained in "inhumane conditions" on the Syrian border until finally being allowed into the country. They face more uncertain conditions because most Palestinians do not hold Iraqi citizenship and consequently do not hold passports. The UNHCR appealed to Israel to allow this particular group of refugees admission into the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. The agency said that from resettlement countries, only Canada and Syria had taken Palestinians from Iraq in the past.


The Yazidi community was affected by several acts of violence in 2007. On April 23, 2007 masked gunmen abducted and shot 23 Yazidis near Mosul. On August 14, 2007 Yazidis were targeted in a series of bombings that became the deadliest suicide attack since the Iraq War began.


The Kawliya or Qawliya are a small Roma minority in Iraq. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq it has been difficult for Iraq's Qawliya population to seek autonomy and safety. Many of their villages have been destroyed or taken over by religious militias, and this has forced Qawliya to flee to the north. One of these destroyed villages was itself called "Qawliya", located about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. [ [ In a Gypsy Village's Fate, An Image of Iraq's Future.] "The Washington Post". April 3, 2004. Report about the raiding and destruction of the village Qawliya in Iraq.]


There are about 60,000–400,000 Shabaks in Iraq. [ [ Crushing Iraq's human mosaic] , BBC News] Despite having their own language and culture unique from other groups, Kurdish authorities have attempted to Kurdify the Shabaks by occupying Shabak villages and referring to them as "Kurdish Shabaks". In 2005, two Assyrians were killed and four Shabaks were wounded by the KDP during a demonstration organized by the Democratic Shabak Coalition, a group which wants separate representation for the Shabak community. [cite web| url=| title=Kurdish Gunmen Open Fire on Demonstrators in North Iraq| publisher=AINA| year=2005-08-16| ]


On February 5th, 2005 the IRIN issued a reported titled "Iraq: Male homosexuality still a taboo." The article stated, among other things that honor killings by Iraqis against a gay family member are common and given some legal protection. The article also stated that the 2001 amendment to the criminal code stipulating the death penalty for homosexuality "has not been changed", even through Paul Bremer clearly ordered the criminal code to go back to its original 1969 edition. [ [ IRIN Middle East | Middle East | Iraq | IRAQ: Male homosexuality still a taboo | Human Rights |Feature] ]

CNN reports that gay Iraqis continue to be subjected to threats, rape, kidnapping and murder based on their sexual orientation. [ [ " Gays in Iraq terrorized by threats, rape, murder", by Frederik Pleitgen, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Wayne Drash, July 24, 2008, CNN] ]


As many as 133 women were killed in ther city of Basra alone in 2006 -- 79 for violation of "Islamic teachings" and 47 for honour killings, according to IRIN, the news branch of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.Amnesty International claims honour killings are also conducted by Shia militias upon politically active women and those who did not follow a strict dress code, as well as women who are perceived as human rights defenders. The attacks on the women have intensified since British forces withdrew to their base in September 2007. Iraqi security forces are heavily infiltrated by militias. [citeweb|title= Violations of 'Islamic teachings' take deadly toll on Iraqi women|author=Arwa Damon|url=|publisher="CNN"|accessdate=2008-02-08]

In Sulaymaniyah, there were 400 cases of the burning of women in 2006. In Iraqi Kurdistan, at least 255 women had been killed in just the first six months of 2007, three-quarters of them by burning. [ [ Mark Lattimer on the brutal treatment of women in Iraq] , The Guardian, December 13, 2007] Beheadings, stoning (see stoning of Du'a Khalil Aswad), rapes, abduction, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase. [ [ Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women] ] [ [ Barbaric 'honour killings' become the weapon to subjugate women in Iraq] , The Independent, April 28, 2008]

Many of the Iraqi women fleeing the Iraq war are turning to prostitution to feed their children. [ [ Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria] , New York Times, May 29, 2007] [ [ Iraqi women: Prostituting ourselves to feed our children] ,, August 16, 2007] An estimated 50,000 prostitutes, some as young as 13, are among the 1.2 million Iraqis who fled to Syria. [ [ How Many Child Prostitutes Is Bush Responsible For?] , AlterNet, March 18, 2008]

Refugee settlement beyond the Middle East

In early February 2007 the United States and the United Nations developed a plan to settle several thousand refugees in the United States.In an initial step, refugees would apply for applicant status. The UN aims to register 135,000 to 200,000 to determine which people had fled persecution and would thus qualify for refugee status. [RACHEL L. SWARNS and KATHERINE ZOEPF, [ More Refugees are Headed to U.S.,"] "New York Times," 14 February 2007 ]

The US aims to settle at least 5,000 of this group in the US by the end of 2007. Since the 2003 invasion, the US has settled 466 Iraqi refugees. The first group of anticipated refugees are presently in Turkey, and had fled during the rule of Saddam Hussein. Subsequently, refugees would be accepted from Syria, and then from Jordan. Kristele Younes of Refugees International supported these moves towards resettlement, but she said that "the numbers remain low compared to what the needs are.” [ [ More Iraqi Refugees Are Headed to U.S. - New York Times ] ]

A July 22, 2007 article notes that in the past nine months only 133 of the planned 7000 Iraqirefugees were allowed into the United States. [ [ Ambassador wants more visas for loyal Iraqis] ]

Of the refugees' status, US Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts) said, “We can’t solve the problem alone, but we obviously bear a heavy responsibility for the crisis.” [ [ More Iraqi Refugees Are Headed to U.S. - New York Times ] ]

According to Washington-based Refugees International the U.S. has admitted fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees since the invasion, Sweden had accepted 18,000 and Australia had resettled almost 6,000. [ [,20867,21835052-2703,00.html US in Iraq for 'another 50 years'] , The Australian, June 2, 2007] More than 2 million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980, including about 1 million from Vietnam, while Australia and Canada accepted more than 250,000 Vietnamese refugees. [ [ U.S., West seen skirting Iraqi refugee crisis] ] [ [,0129-barnett.shtm#bio A New Era Of Refugee Resettlement] ] In 2006, 1.27 million immigrants were granted legal residence in the United States. [cite web| url = | title = United States: Top Ten Sending Countries, By Country of Birth, 1986 to 2006 (table available by menu selection) | publisher = Migration Policy Institute|date= 2007| accessdate = 2007-07-05]

Sweden, known for liberal asylum policies, has seen a surge of refugees from war-torn Iraq in the last year. Sweden currently accepts more than half of all asylum applications from Iraqis in Europe. In 2006, more than 9,000 Iraqis fled their country and came to Sweden seeking shelter, a four times increase over 2005. Sweden's immigration authority expects up to 40,000 Iraqis seeking asylum in 2007. An estimated 79,200 Iraqis call Sweden their home. Many Iraqis fled to Sweden during the 90's as well. Current refugees like Sweden because many of their relatives are there and because of the generous refugee policies. [ [ Sweden wants EU to help with Iraq refugees] ]

The need for aid and essential services

The United Nations in February 2007 appealed for $60 million to assist displaced Iraqis. [ [ NY Times Advertisement ] ]

At the end of July 2007 the NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq (NCCI) and Oxfam International issued a report, "Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq," that said that one-third of the populace was in need of aid. (The NCCI is an alliance of approximately 80 international NGOs and 200 Iraqi NGOs, formed in Baghdad in 2003.) The report, based on survey research of the nation's civilian population, reports that 70 percent of the population lacks proper access to water supplies. Only 20 percent of the population has proper sanitation. Almost 30 percent of children experience malnutrition. About 92 percent of children experience problems learning. These figures represent sharp increases since 2003. [ "Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq," NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq and Oxfam International, 30 July 2007]

International conferences on Iraqi refugee crisis

*On April 17, 2007 an international conference on the Iraqi refugee crisis began in Geneva, Switzerland. Attendees included Human Rights Watch representatives, U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives and members of 60 other Non-Governmental Organizations. [Valentina Mites, "Iraq: Refugee Conference Addresses Plight Of Millions," Radio Free Europte April 17, 2007]
*The World Health Organization began a two day conference in Damascus, Syria, on July 29, 2007. The conference would address the health requirements of the more than two million refugees from Iraq. Aside from the UHO, participants in the conference included the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and various UN agencies. ["WHO opens conference in Syria on Iraqi refugee health needs," "The International Herald Tribune," July 29, 2007]

ee also

*Iraqi diaspora
*Arab diaspora
*Asylum in the United States
*Human Rights in the Middle East
*Human rights in Iraq
*Human rights in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq
*Minority politics in Iraq
*Civil war in Iraq
*Ethnic cleansing
*Religious war


External links

* [ The Baltimore Sun: The Iraqi Exodus]
* [ Photo Gallery: Iraqi Refugees in Limbo]
* [ Iraqi Refugees: Seeking Stability in Syria and Jordan]
* [ Iraq: The World's Fastest Growing Refugee Crisis]
* [ Uneasy Havens Await Those who Flee Iraq]
* [ U.N.: Iraqi civilian death toll reaches new monthly high]
* [ Palestinians in Iraq Pay the Cost of Being 'Saddam's People']
* [ UN: Palestinians in Iraq threatened]
* [ Forced Migration Review special July 2007 issue on Iraq available in Arabic and English]
* [ 106 page Human Rights Watch November 2006 report on the refugee crisis]
* [ November 30, 2006 Human Rights Watch statement on the West's silence on the refugee crisis]
* [ January 19, 2007 Human Rights Tribune on the refugee crisis]
* [ January 22, 2007 BBC report on the refugee crisis]
* [ Iraqi children soldier on]
* [$file/Iraq_Overview_March07.pdf Internal Displacement Monitoring Centres june 30 2007 report on displaced people in Iraq]
* [ Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre page of 22 maps of internal and external displacement of people in Iraq]
* [ May 13, 2007 New York Times Magazine article on "The Flight from Iraq"]
* [ Refugees International July 27, 2007 report and pdf report on the refugee crisis and the UN response]
* [ July 30, 2007 NNCI and Oxfam International report on resource deficiencies in the civilian population]
* [ August 19, 2008 PBS "Wide Angle": "Iraqi Exodus"]

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