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Further details on this matter are presented below.
Significant outward migration from Iraq began in 2004, in response to fighting between American forces and Iraqi insurgents, growing religious fundamentalism and organized crime. These developments led to a huge decline in personal security, combined with sudden restrictions on personal freedoms due to the power of religious militias.
The first, large wave of refugees began in 2004 and largely consisted of thousands of rela tively wealthy, urban, educated and secular Sunnis from Baghdad, as well as Christians and Sabeans (a religious minority). These refugees were targeted by increasing religious funda mentalism, and a number of bomb attacks on churches, which occurred at this time in Bagh dad and northern Iraq, as well as the general decline in security due to American-Iraqi fight ing.
A seriously massive influx of refugees into Syria and Jordan began in 2006, after the bomb ing of an important Shi’a shrine in Samarra (Iraq). This attack resulted in a surge in sectarian warfare all across the country and outward migrations from all across southern Iraq, including large numbers of poorer, Shi’a Iraqis. As moving outside of Iraq remained more expensive than moving within the country, even the later refugees generally arrived with some modest savings or access to income. While there are no specific studies regarding the matter, it can be assumed that the Iraqi refugees represent a more wealthy population group than those who are internally displaced within Iraq. This is supported by reports that Iraqi IDPs fre quently squat in public buildings (and have been evicted) and have very low education levels;
whereas abroad, most refugees have no other option but to find private accommodation and pay rent.
Additional religious minority groups, such as Mandeans and Yazidis also fled increasing reli gious fundamentalism and are today present among the Iraqi refugees. It was at this stage that Syria and Jordan were confronted with tens of thousands of Iraqis streaming across their borders every day and that UNHCR scrambled into action, setting up mass-registration facili ties and beginning to organize health and community services.
Since then, migration between Iraq and Syria and Jordan respectively has largely stabilized.
Jordan has closed its borders to further immigration and in the case of Syria, where migration from Iraq is easy and frequent, inward and outward movements are balanced, according to the government.41 The actual number of Iraqi refugees in each country is heavily disputed and as documentation of Iraqi migration in both countries is extremely patchy, no estimate is reliable. Figures provided by each government are high, for Syria, it stands at around 1.2 million, for Jordan, at around 500,000. The numbers of refugees registered with UNHCR are much lower, for Syria around 206,000 in February 2009, for Jordan around 52,000. It is un known how high the percentage is, although it is clear that many refugees choose not to reg ister with UNHCR.42 Scholars have disputed the methodology of various studies into this question, and answers therefore remain vague.
Overall, given its rapidity, size and context, post-2003 migration from Iraq to Syria and Jor dan has proceeded remarkably peacefully and with few significant social disturbances for the host countries. While the primary and secondary education sector has been severely strained in some areas of Damascus, this has not led to a wholesale breakdown in services or crisis. UNHCR, initially not well prepared for the long-term nature of the migration, reacted quickly and received large-scale, short-term funding to scale up registration facilities and services. Unfortunately, longer term funding has not been forth coming and it is unlikely that assistance on the current level can continue for long. According to one person active in the management of international aid projects to Syria, while in 2008 many Syrian officials, foreign donors and diplomats regularly raised the issue of Iraqi refugees, this year attention has moved on to other issues such as the water shortage in Syria’s north-east and the Iraqis are only seldom referred to. On the other hand, at least one international NGO reported plans for doubling its education projects for Iraqi refugees in 2010 and significantly increasing its num ber of staff. 43 A reduction in UNHCR’s budget would mostly affect the humanitarian situation of refugees currently relying on cash handouts; on the other hand, if significant numbers of refugees are in the mean time successfully resettled, the effect could be much less severe.
A number of structural difficulties that affect humanitarian assistance to the refugees remain.
Firstly and most importantly, the legal framework governing the refugees is fuzzy and leaves both refugees, UNHCR and NGOs in a legal grey area. Further information on the legal situation is provided below in the section on the human security of Iraqi refugees.
Secondly, data on all aspects of the Iraqi refugees are unavailable, vague and disputed. The numbers game is of high importance to several involved parties, including the governments of Syria and Jordan (for different reasons), international NGOs, UNHCR and states targeted UNHCR Syria: A round up of 2008. Damascus, UNHCR Syria, 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 Interview conducted in Damascus in October 2009 for resettlement. In the case of Syria, the absence of firm(er) numbers on the Iraqi commu nity is regarded by most observers as a political strategy of the government, so that its in flated estimates of Iraqi arrivals, used to attract foreign assistance and good will, cannot be questioned. The only thing that can be said for certain about the question of how many Iraqis live in Syria and Jordan is that the answer is unclear. It is likely that the government figures of 1.2 million in Syria and 650, 000 in Jordan are inflated. This assumption is supported by more reliable UNHCR statistics on refugee registrations and Iraqi children attending school.
However given the absence of research and surveys, especially covering areas other than Damascus and Amman, there is simply no clear answer and the origin of the various figures published in different reports must be questioned.
Thirdly, in both countries, aid efforts are hampered by government reluctance to allow NGOs (both foreign and national) to operate and UNHCR initially had difficulties to identify imple menting partners.
3. Regional security risks Since their foundation as independent states in the 1940s, the populations and governments of the Levant have continually experienced threats to the stability of their countries and so cieties. While both Jordan and Syria today have managed to obtain a significant degree of internal stability, the regional security situation remains fragile. The situation is exacerbated by the region’s global strategic importance, which ensures the continuous involvement of foreign powers.
Iraq, which borders Syria and Jordan, faces a very uncertain political future. The 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon, a 2007 Israeli air raid on Syria and the 2009 bombing of Gaza, seemed to prove that Israel remains an important threat to Arab states in the region. Both Syria and Jordan have witnessed recent attacks by Islamic extremists and have to manage religiously and ethnically diverse populations. This section briefly mentions those regional security aspects that are of relevance when considering the impact of the Iraqi refugee crisis.
Sectarianism Religious, national and ethnic diversity is as an important element of security considerations in the region. Sectarianism has regularly resulted in one or the other form of violence in Syria and Jordan in the past 50 years.
Syria’s population of around 20 million is religiously and ethnically divided into various Mus lim, Christian and other minority sects. Although no serious violence has occurred between the different groups for decades, inter-marriage is very rare and popular animosity between the different groups exists. The sectarian disintegration of Lebanon and Iraq are keen re minders to Syrians of the potential dangers posed by their own, religiously diverse, society.
Also, northern Syria is home to a significant Kurdish population of up to two million people, of which around 10 per cent are stateless, after the government revoked the citizenship of a number of Kurds in 1962. As elsewhere in the Middle East, the Syrian government fears Kurdish separatism and Kurds in Syria suffer state repression, and occasionally stage pro tests against their treatment.
This means that overall, sectarianism is perceived as a significant force and indeed a danger in Syria, reflected in the political and social taboos surrounding it. Government officials never address this issue openly (as mentioning it could imply a criticism of the government, which is dominated by the Alawi sect); and even in private conversations it is a problematic issue to discuss. Generally, the Syrian state manages this security threat through immediate repres sion of any form of sectarian and separatist violence and by the provision of basic welfare to most citizens on an equal basis.
Jordan, with a population of around 5.5 million, has been far less affected by religious sec tarianism and the vast majority of its population is Sunni Muslim. However, Jordan is also the country with the world’s highest percentage of refugees, most of which are Palestinians, and the country hosts hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, from Egypt and South Asia.
In the past, Palestinians have been the source of civil-war like fighting and inter-state conflict between Syria and Jordan, and their future remains Jordan’s most pressing, long-term politi cal question. Because of its cosmopolitan population, Jordan also needs to find a way to re tain a sense of national identity, and to manage public resentment against the newest wave of refugees to hit the country. These matters are complicated by changes to Jordan’s rentier style form of economic patronage, through economic liberalization.
As sectarianism remains such a highly sensitive and politicized issue in both host-countries, the impact of the Iraqi refugees on the sectarian dynamic has been carefully observed from the start. Government officials and observers expressed the fear that the influx of a largely Shi’a refugee population, along with several religious minorities, might import sectarian con flict into their societies. As outlined below, this has so far not happened, but the situation is and should be continuously monitored, particularly in the provision of development assis tance. Any explicit or implicit preferential treatment of a particular religious or ethnic group should obviously be avoided.
Repercussions of the Iraq War The war that erupted in Iraq after the American-led invasion of the country in 2003 has had a significant impact on overall, regional security. The continued presence of American troops in the region and the fundamentally changed power dynamic in Iraq has opened opportunities and threats for all of Iraq’s neighbouring states, which are now assessing and reacting to the new situation. Who holds power in Iraq, whether Iran will gain significant influence, whether the Kurdish region gains full independence, and how the Americans will continue to exert power will be huge determinants for regional security.
The large Iraqi refugee population plays a part in these geopolitical considerations, as the refugees can potentially be used as strategic trump cards by the host states to, for example, demand funds or other assistance from Iraq. Iraq, on the other hand, could potentially use its diaspora to destabilize the host societies or make demand on host states to better control those refugees opposed to the new Iraqi government. While until recently no such trend was discernable, the sudden deterioration of relations between Syria and Iraq in August 2009, when both countries recalled their ambassadors just days after the Iraqi prime minister vis ited Damascus, are signs of how quickly the regional dynamic can currently change, with potential significant effect for the Iraqi refugee populations. These considerations have to be kept in mind to understand certain government policy towards the refugees.
Also, since 2003 both Syria and Jordan have – voluntarily or involuntarily - hosted individuals seeking to enter Iraq as insurgents or carry out bomb attacks in their host states. Syria in particular has been accused by the American and the Iraqi governments of not curbing the influx of foreign fighters from its territory into Iraq. Both governments have therefore been indirectly drawn into the Iraq conflict and have had to mobilize additional security forces to monitor Iraqi and other foreigners with possible interest in entering Iraq. According to a num ber of conflicting reports, insurgent and al-Qaeda style groups continue to plan attacks from Syria, and the Iraqi government is seeking more cooperation on this matter from Syria (this was also the background to the recent withdrawal of ambassadors).44 Unlike Syria, Jordan has not been accused of facilitating or at least not preventing the entry of insurgents into Iraq.
Regional Migration War, economic pressures and social instability have meant that large-scale inward and out ward migration has been a common feature in the Levant throughout the 20th century. Even before independence the area was a destination for migrants, of which perhaps the largest group were Armenians, displaced to Syria from Ottoman Turkey in 1915.
The creation of Israel in 1948 resulted in the flight of around 700,000 Palestinians, a large number of which settled in rapidly built refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan received the largest number and today, estimates consider that around one third of Jordan’s population is Palestinian.45 Iraq’s tumultuous history has also meant that Iraq’s neighbours have hosted tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees for decades, whose numbers have risen or fallen in line with the political situation in Iraqi and the ebb and flow of positive or negative regional relations. Post-2003 Iraqi migration into Syria and Jordan (and elsewhere) has to be analysed within this history and is perhaps best understood as a turning-point, rather than a precedent, of Iraqi outward migration.46 In this sense Syria and Jordan are, to an extent, used to accommodating migrants and have a history of tolerance towards refugees. On the other hand it also means that governments and populations are wary of having to integrate yet another, large foreign community, which is perceived as draining public budgets and increasing the competition for resources.
While migrants have been allowed to live and work in Syria and Jordan, this does not mean that they enjoy citizenship. According to nationality, migrants receive varying degrees of residency rights. While citizens from Arab states have traditionally been allowed de facto free movement in and out of Syria and Jordan, the Iraqi refugee crisis has resulted in an un precedented visa regime for Iraqi nationals entering both countries. On the other hand, the traditionally liberal attitude to Arab visitors has also meant that both governments are turning a blind eye to immigration violations by Iraqis, implementing a regime of tolerance, but also of legal uncertainty.
Relations with Israel While of no direct relevance to the Iraqi refugee crisis, Arab-Israeli relations are such a cru cial regional security factor that they are briefly mentioned here. Of both countries, only Jor dan has signed a peace treaty with Israel, and direct and indirect armed confrontation be tween Israel and Lebanon/Syria is possibly the most important regional security considera Reuters, 11 September 2009, Iraq says Syria must show will to stop militants.
Migration Information Source: Jordan, a Refugee Haven. Available at: www.migrationsource.org Dorai, Mohamed K. 2008. "Le Renouveau de la Question de l'Asile au Proche-Orient: l'Exemple des Refugies Irakiens en Syrie." In Migrants Craints et Espoirs, Le Monde Diplomatique Carrefour de la Pensee, eds. Alain Chemin and Jean-Pierre Gelard: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.