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Should security again deteriorate in Iraq with Syria holding the blame, various negative out falls are imaginable, such as an escalation of assassinations and bomb attacks against Iraqis in Syria, conducted either by Iraqi government agents or the various factions vying for power in Iraq.
Regarding the relations between Syria and the West – which are generally difficult - the ef fect of the Iraqi refugees is equally mixed. Like Jordan, Syria has received wide-spread praise from the UN, NGOs and Western governments for supporting so many refugees; this has enhanced the country’s standing. Syria has even been regarded as indirectly helping the US by receiving so many refugees, which were uprooted due to an US-led war, and has been regarded as an indirect victim of the invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, the US has also repeatedly accused Syria of not monitoring the Iraqi refugees closely enough and allow ing Iraqi insurgents entry into Iraq. This is partly the reason why the Iraqi accusations, de scribed above, carry weight. Describing Syria as a safe haven for terrorists could give ammunition to those US officials, who still wish for regime change in Syria.
Although the Syrian government remains deeply sceptical about foreign NGOs, cooperation with a selected number presents an opportunity for Syrian foreign relations and public ser vices. To a small extent, Syria is pursuing this strategy, although the number of NGOs that the government works with remains very limited.64 Building a positive relationship with Euro pean NGOs could ultimately have a beneficial effect on, for example, Syria’s desire to sign the trade agreement with the EU, which is in the pipeline. In this sense, Syria’s all in all gen erous treatment of the Iraqi refugees remains an under exploited, foreign relations dossier and, notably, Syria has not taken much initiative to ‘market’ the issue in a beneficial way.65 Society Despite their similar cultural and linguistic background, the Iraqis in Syria remain relatively segregated. Iraqis have settled all over Syria, but certain areas of Damascus have visibly become ‘Iraqi towns’, a development that has been greeted with public scepticism and open dislike. The initial welcoming and compassionate attitude of Syrians towards Iraqis has long changed to one of annoyance and suspicion.66 As in Jordan, Syrians are aware that their country already hosts a very large Palestinian refugee population and there are fears that yet again, Syria will have to take on refugees from a conflict for which it was not responsible.
In the Syrian popular discourse, Iraqis are often associated with poverty, crime and prostitu tion, or suspected of links with the Saddam regime or other unwanted political activity. Iraqi children have reported open hostility from teachers and other students; however it is difficult at this stage to evaluate how widespread this phenomenon is. The lack of integration is worsened by the employment prohibition and unclear residence status of Iraqis, which re main in legal limbo. It is also due to the fact that the Iraqis themselves would most often pre fer not to be in Syria, either hoping to return or wishing to be resettled in a third country, and therefore many are not making efforts to permanently settle and integrate.
There are numerous reports about an increase in human trafficking between Iraq and Syria, linked to prostitution. Given that these developments have to occur with the collusion of Syr ian criminals and indeed authorities, which turn a blind eye, the destitution of Iraqi migrants presents an opportunity for growing organized crime and corruption in Syria. No apparent plan or programme to counter such developments on behalf of the authorities is currently in place.
So while overall, the arrival of the Iraqis in Syria has proceeded remarkably peacefully and without any major public disruptions, on a more subtle social level more significant social changes are taking place, which are linked to the arrival of the Iraqi refugees. These come at a time, when the already inefficient Syrian state has to manage other difficult transitions, such as the liberalization of the economy and dealing with the effects of a 2-year drought, which has uprooted nearly 1 million farmers.
What about Iraqis travelling back and forth? Have there been instances of social tension in Iraq? As mentioned above, there is very frequent to and fro migration between Iraq and Syria, much less between Iraq and Jordan, due to Jordanian entry restrictions. Iraq is cur rently racked by social tensions, none of which have been attributed to outward or to and for migration to date.
5. The Human Security of the Iraqi Refugees As pointed out above, the diversity of life circumstances among the Iraqi refugees is enor mous. They range from very wealthy individuals living in luxurious housing and driving ex pensive cars, to teenage girls engaged in forced prostitution to survive. For a rough guide line, as to how many persons fall into the poorest category, it should be noted that in Syria, the UNHCR has registered around 206,000 Iraqi refugees, of which 91% are eligible for food aid (given that not all Iraqis, in particular the most vulnerable, are necessarily aware of UNHCR operations, this number should only be taken as a rough guideline).67 Human security is a broad concept, which, in addition to traditional security matters such as military violence and crime, covers social, economic and domestic issues, which contribute to human feelings of (in)security. The comments below are designed to give an idea of some of the security considerations applying to middle-class and poorer Iraqis who have fled Iraq to escape physical harm. Nevertheless, within the scope of this study, some generalizations are unavoidable (just as an example, it is not possible here to elaborate individually on the situa tion of the various minority groups, the special situation of Palestinian refugees from Iraq, or analyse properly gender-specific security aspects etc).
Crisp, Jeff, Jane Janz, Jose Riera and Shahira Samy. 2009. "Surviving in the city A review of
UNHCR's operations for Iraqi refugees in urban areas of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria." Geneva:
UNHCR Policy Development and Evaluation Service.
Physical Security Security of life and limb, as well as of their property, was, of course, the primary reason for Iraqi flight to Syria and Jordan. Both countries continue to offer most Iraqis safety from mili tary action, kidnapping, sectarian murders and violence. Lack of security remains a crucial determinant for the decision about whether to return to Iraq and refugees monitor security developments in Iraq closely, including through periodic return visits to Iraq. While the situa tion has vastly improved since 2007, when even the travel by road from Baghdad to the Syr ian border was a mortal risk, bomb attacks and organized, violent crime still occur regularly across Iraq, making a return unattractive. It should be noted that UNHCR is not promoting voluntary returns at this stage, due to the continuing insecurity in Iraq.
Also, a number of refugees face the problem of not being able to return to their houses when these have been taken over by other displaced persons, or sometimes sectarian shifts in their old neighbourhood prevent a return. Overall, there appears to be an overwhelming dis trust that life could ever become tolerable again in Iraq amongst the refugees and many do not wish to return. 68 Syria and Jordan also offer access to a relatively functioning health care system, something which is not available in Iraq. Refugees registered with UNHCR receive substantial financial help to pay for larger operations and smaller health needs are cared for directly by the Red Crescent. Those Iraqis, who can afford private health care, also find a larger range of good quality clinics and doctors in Syria and Jordan, unlike in Iraq, where many doctors had to flee and urban travel can present risks.
Nevertheless, some Iraqi refugees still face significant physical threats in their host country, due to poverty and crime. Serious illness is a major threat, as expensive and long-term treatments are difficult to obtain even for middle-class Syrians and UN funding is gradually running out.69 Certain, specialist treatments for cancer and other complicated diseases are only available abroad and thus not accessible to refugees. Also, as has been reported fre quently, psychological and psychiatric treatments are not easily available in either Syria or Jordan, where psychological illness remains a taboo. Many Iraqis, who have witnessed traumatic events or simply experienced a violent uprooting suffer mental problems, remain untreated, or indeed experience further traumatisation and re-traumatisation in exile. Contin ued stress and frustration has led to an increase of domestic violence and sexual harass ment of women.70 Poverty among Iraqi refugees has an impact on physical security when it leads to exploitative labour and prostitution, especially in the case of children. Reports on these matters, including on human trafficking, abound, however in the absence of systematic research, it is very diffi cult to estimate how many refugees are affected. Significantly, victims of such exploitation are criminalized in both Jordan and Syria, and therefore have no legal recourse. The number of NGOs providing aid or shelter for such victims is extremely small.
Riller, Frauke. 2009. "On the resettlement expectations of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria." ed. UNHCR ICMC. Beirut.
AFP, 21 July 2009, UN suspends medical aid to 600 Iraqi families in Jordan.
Chatelard G, El-Abed O, Washington K: Protection, mobility and livelihood challenges of displaced Iraqis in urban settings in Jordan. Geneva, ICMC, 2009 and IRIN, 6 April 2009, SYRIA: Fears over gender-based violence in Iraqi community.
Legal (In)security As is frequently mentioned by reports and local observers, the main issue currently facing the Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan with regards to their long-term security is their lack of se cure legal status. As neither country is signatory to the Geneva Refugee Convention, refu gees, even when recognised as legitimate asylum seekers by UNHCR, do not enjoy special protection. Jordan has implemented strong visa and residency restrictions to any Iraqi person wanting to enter its territory, regardless of whether this person is fleeing persecution or not.
The six months temporary protection offered to Iraqis under an MOU signed between UNHCR and the government of Jordan has run out for most Iraqis residing in Jordan, leaving most of them with no residency rights and liable for deportation.
Syria on the other hand still allows Iraqis into its territory and allocates various residency permits, according to a person’s situation and according to random application of the law.
UNHCR reports that the current official line is that Iraqis are given permits for one or three months, which are renewable. However even UNHCR officials admit that the application of the regulations is unclear and that permits are sometimes renewable and sometimes not.71 It should be noted that this randomness of residency rules also extends to Western foreigners residing in Syria, where often one’s luck depends on which official is in charge on a particular day. It should also be noted, that unlike in Jordan, where UNHCR registration at least affords six months temporary protection from deportation, in Syria any Iraqi can legally be deported at any time, regardless of whether this person is recognized by UNHCR or not. UNHCR reg istration does therefore not afford residency rights (however gives access to certain aid benefits and possible resettlement). As mentioned above, Syria is governed by emergency law, which gives the state nearly unlimited powers vis-à-vis any person residing on its terri tory (be they Syrian or not).
Despite these legal uncertainties, the governments of both Jordan and Syria have exercised a regime of tolerance towards illegally residing Iraqis and deportations remains exceptional.
Some Iraqis, like those working in the sex industry, are more likely to be deported than oth ers. Occasional arrests and deportations of Iraqis working illegally in restaurants have been reported. In the absence of any legal basis for residency, no one knows how long this regime of tolerance will last, of course.
As hopefully this section clarifies, the legal uncertainty facing Iraqis in Jordan and Syria is a main obstacle to their local integration. As those Iraqis who are residing illegally fear any form of interaction with authorities, it also limits their access to justice more generally (in the case an Iraqi becomes a victim of crime, for example), to schooling, to health care and other forms of protection.
Economic Situation Generally, Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan face a much less fortunate economic situation in their host country than in their previous life in Iraq. Indeed, a significant proportion of Iraqis left a relatively positive economic situation behind; in Jordan, 35% of Iraqi refugees hold a university degree and professionals outnumber manual workers by three to one.72 In addition Interview with UNHCR official in October 2009 Crisp J, Janz J, Riera J, et al.: Surviving in the city. A review of UNHCR's operations for Iraqi refu gees in urban areas of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Geneva, UNHCR Policy Development and Evalua tion Service, 2009 to having held good jobs, Iraqis also benefited from their home states’ system of welfare payments and subsidized access to education, health care and other public services. Many Iraqi refugees continue to draw on such pensions from abroad, either during return visits or through means of transferring the money. Still, many refugees have seen their economic and social standing deteriorate rapidly abroad, with no hope of improvement, due to the blanket employment ban, no resettlement in a further country and continuing violence in Iraq.
The most significant risk to the economic security of Iraqi refugees is the continuing lack of clarity regarding their legal status, and lack of integration, in Syria and Jordan. Both govern ments exercise a regime of tolerance and ‘blind eye’ towards informal Iraqi employment and business, but without a firm residency status, Iraqis cannot develop any long-term livelihood strategies, and cannot build on their professional skills. Indeed, although NGOs in both coun tries provide vocational training, they are highly aware of its limited value, as Iraqis cannot legally make use of it.73 In Jordan, this problem is further exacerbated by the impossibility of most refugees to con duct brief return visits to Iraq, due to immigration restrictions. From Syria, Iraqis can easily travel to and from Iraq, which allows them to continue to engage in business or work. Indeed, a common survival strategy for Iraqi families in Syria is to send one or more breadwinners to Iraq, while dependants remain in Damascus for safety. Increasing the regional mobility of refugees is therefore one recommendation that has been put forward to allow them better economic prospects.74 The most destitute Iraqis receive assistance from UNHCR and other agencies in cash and kind, however as it is likely that funding will be severely reduced in the coming years, and as inflation rises, refugees cannot indefinitely rely on handouts.75 A regional, long-term strategy for Iraqi integration and/or returns is needed, but unlikely to emerge given the difficult inter state relations between the host countries and between them and Western donors. The stra tegic importance of the Levant and the political sensitivities surrounding the fall-out from the US-led Iraq invasion mean that any high-level political planning in the region is laden with complicated and contradicting agendas.