«Berlin, September 2010 Foto auf dem Cover: Internally displaced persons in a tent camp in Girdassen, Dahuk gov ernorate in Iraq. © IOM 2007 (Photo: ...»
Society As briefly mentioned above, Jordanian society is highly international and fragmented. On the one hand this has meant that the arrival of yet another foreign group – of which many thou sands already resided in Jordan – did not present a radical shock to social relations. Espe cially given that fact that as Arabs, the Iraqis not only share the language, but also the relig ion and culture of most Jordanians, their presence has not radically altered Jordan’s social make up. As was the case across the region, initially Jordanians felt compassion for the Iraqis and the disastrous developments in Iraq and welcomed them into their country. While this positive attitude changed, mainly due to the price hikes attributed to the Iraqis, significant hostility and xenophobia towards the Iraqis has not been reported and the common bond of being fellow Arabs remains.
Despite some news articles in the Arab press that crime rates are rising in Jordan, there are no indications that Iraqi immigration is connected with this.53 Petty crime is not a wide spread phenomena in Jordan, where security is tightly maintained and Iraqis, who are arrested for any violations face immediate deportation. Interestingly, the Jordanian government passed a law against human trafficking in January 2009, but not in response to the Iraqi situation, but to protect south Asian migrant workers.54 On the other hand, the already disparate nature of Jordanian society meant that the Iraqis have exacerbated an already existing problem, especially, and this is of importance, as the Iraqis themselves are not a socially cohesive group. The Iraqis have further reduced social cohesion and homogeneity in Jordan and have highlighted the lack of a ‘national base’ upon which Jordanian citizenship could be based, further complicating already difficult govern ment-citizenship relations in the country. To retain legitimacy and control, the Jordanian gov ernment needs to find strategies to balance the interests and needs of all the various social groups in the country and the Iraqis have contributed to this challenge.
Syria Despite its geographical proximity to Jordan, Syria’s political and economic environment dif fers significantly. The country’s economy is much less dynamic and liberalized, and is domi nated by a large public sector and state-owned enterprises. Emergency law, which suspends most articles of Syria’s republican constitution, has been in effect since 1963 and all execu tive power rests on the president and his inner circle of relatives and advisors. In practice and as a short hand, Syria can be described as an oppressive police state, in which any form of opposition to the president is severely punished and in which the pervasive security forces can imprison and torture with near impunity.
However, Syria’s government also enjoys an important degree of consent and support among the population, and provides citizens with (relatively) functioning public services, such as education, health care and subsidized goods. The government has managed to maintain social stability, which, given Syria’s location between Lebanon and Iraq, is regarded as su premely important. Popular consent therefore rests on the provision of at least minimum liv ing standards and it should be noted that public tolerance of visible poverty, such as home lessness, begging or child labour is relatively low in Syria; it is regarded as relatively shame ful and offensive. This matter is of relevance when considering Syria’s treatment of the Iraqis.
Finally, the availability of data and information on the Iraqi refugees in Syria is even worse than in Jordan. This is due to Syria’s weaker state bureaucracy, a lower involvement of for eign NGOs in the country and the Syrian state’s general avoidance of public information re garding the highly politicized matter of Iraqi refugees.
Syria maintained an open door policy towards the Iraqis until October 2007, when a visa re gime was introduced, to curb what was seen as unacceptably large and uncontrolled num bers of migrants. Officially, Iraqis can obtain a 3 months tourist visa on the border, which can be renewed at the Syrian immigration ministry. In practice, immigration matters are more vague and as long as Iraqis do not commit any crimes in Syria it is unlikely that they are de ported.55 Economy and Infrastructure Syria faces a number of serious economic challenges, some of which have most certainly been exacerbated by the arrival of up to 1.5 million refugees from Iraq since 2003. However, the Iraqis have also brought economic opportunities to Syria, many of which the state fails to realize due to restrictive policies.
It should be noted that Syria’s economy remains heavily state-controlled, despite recent at tempts and efforts to de-regulate, which to date have only had a limited effect. The official Weiss Fagen, Patricia. 2007. "Iraqi Refugees: Seeking Stability in Syria and Jordan." ed. George town University Institute for the Study of International Migration. Washington DC: Georgetown Univer sity.
state control and ownership of many means of production is compounded by the fact that a number of important industry sectors are controlled by individuals close to the president, which also means that normal competition and market conditions are not prevalent. This means that the state of Syria’s public finances is of large importance when it comes to the economic development prospects of the country. Due to its – now diminishing – oil reserves, Syria has never been enrolled in an IMF programme and has thus not had to radically slash subsidies, open its capital markets or reduce its trade barriers (all of these aspects have seen some deregulation in the past few years, to limited effect).
According to the Syrian government, the largest drain on public finances attributed to the Iraqi refugees, has been the sharp rise in the consumption of subsidized goods, such as grain, diesel, water and electricity, which has, according to its own figures, cost the govern ment millions of dollars.56 The increased demand for education and health provision are cost ing the public purse, as Syria from the start allowed all Iraqi children to attend school and initially allowed Iraqis access to the public health system (this later changed, and Iraqis now receive health care through the Red Crescent).
While the accuracy of the proclaimed figures should be treated with caution, it is clear that the increase of the urban population is placing a strain on city infrastructure and public ser vices. The growth of illicit and unregulated housing into areas of Damascus without flowing water and electricity is visible to any visitor to the city. While not all of this can be attributed to the Iraqis, their arrival has no doubt exacerbated the problem, which the government and city administration do not appear able to address. The long-term risks of these developments, especially at a time when Syria is attempting economic liberalization, are a rise in urban pov erty and social tension.
As in Jordan, the Iraqis have had an impact on Syria’s labour market. As they can only work illegally, Iraqi workers have reportedly driven down wages and desperate women and chil dren are working in factories at very low rates. While the overall, national economic effect of such changes is very difficult to measure or even estimate the related, greater visibility of poverty, such as children working in the streets, present a broader social security risk that the government has to manage. The Syria government, for economic, bureaucratic and po litical reasons, is not in a good position to do this.
The Syrian public sector suffers from a lack of experience and education, as well has from low pay and heavily inefficient organisation and work methods. The reasons for this are nu merous – partly to be found in Syria’s semi-socialist history, in decades of lack of reform and the government’s priority to allocate public sector posts according to patronage and loyalty.
Combined with the overruling power of political connection and random application of power, this has resulted in a disastrously ineffective public management that extends to all areas of public services.
Iraqi migration has also had a limited positive economic effect in Syria, although its exact impact is not known.57 The influx and dynamism of Iraqi capital is visible in Iraqi areas of Damascus, where restaurants, travel companies, internet and clothes shops have sprung up, operating in a legal grey area. Unlike Jordan, Syria does not have explicit incentives for Iraqi Unpublished paper presented by the Syria Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a 2007 conference in Ge neva on the plight of the Iraqi refugees.
According to a local observer, who attended a meeting with the most recent IMF delegation, even this delegation was not able to obtain firm numbers or information about the economic impact of the Iraqi refugees and whether it had had an overall net positive or negative effect.
investment and indeed, Iraqi businesses have suffered intimidation, such a being requested by local authorities to cover up the explicitly Iraqi names on their shop signs.
There is also evidence of a growth in trade with consumer goods between Syria and Iraq, with new markets opening for Syrian products and medium sized trading businesses and jobs being created in the transport sector.58 As in Jordan, Iraqi migration has led to a tripling of real estate and rental prices, benefiting Syrian landlords – but damaging Syrians who rent or who are looking to buy their first home. Price inflation has been visible in all areas of life in Syria since 2003, and has been attributed to Iraqis, however it is unclear whether other fac tors, such as the phasing out of subsidies, are to blame.
Given the desolate state of Syria’s higher education system, the country could also stand to benefit from an influx of highly educated Iraqis. Individual instances, in which Iraqi teachers, doctors or academics have been employed, have been reported, however overall, a blanket employment ban affects all Iraqis, limiting the possible ‘brain gain’ effect they might bring to Syria.
Domestic Politics The Syrian government’s grip on domestic security remains tight. The Iraqi influx has placed pressure on several security-related areas: crime, fear of sectarianism and political activism and the activities of foreign NGOs, a few of which have been permitted to operate since the Iraqi immigration crisis.
With regards to crime, while no hard figures are available, numerous research reports and press articles report on the rise of prostitution, often of minors, linked to the Iraqi refugee community in Syria. Prostitution is illegal in Syria, and women conducting it are imprisoned and deported. Given the pervasiveness of the phenomena and the wide public knowledge about the location of street prostitution and clubs that offer it, a significant degree of toler ance or collusion from Syrian authorities is evident.59 Popular commentary that links the Iraqis to an increase in street crime, such as pick pocketing, burglary and kidnapping, also exists, with the government claiming a 20% rise in crime rates in Iraqi-dominated neighbour hoods.60 One story, for example, making the rounds in 2007 was that a group of Iraqis had injected HIV into the sauce bottles that stand on restaurant tables in Damascus, so that any one who would use them would catch the disease. Such stories, while appearing ludicrous to outside observers, increase public fear of the refugees and places pressure on the govern ment to ‘control’ the situation.
The fear that Iraqis would import sectarian violence and political activism into Syria existed from the start but has been, to an extent, dispelled. It quickly became clear that the vast ma jority of refugees were not interested in replicating the violence from which they had fled.
Notably, Iraqis in Syria have settled in mixed neighbourhoods and apart from one area, which has always been favoured by Shi’a due to the presence of a particular shrine, no sig nificant sectarian segregation among the Iraqis has been visible. The heavy security surveil lance present in Iraqi areas also means that any signs of such developments would be quickly suppressed.
Several Iraqi political and religious organizations have offices in Syria, and it can be as sumed that they are known to the authorities and cooperate with them. It should be noted that in September 2009, Syria was accused of harbouring terrorist training camps from which Baathist insurgents sent suicide bombers to Baghdad. These reports, elaborated on below, have not been corroborated but show the real and perceived security risk that political activ ism among the refugees could have for Syria. To deal with these threats, the Syria govern ment is pursuing a policy of surveillance and control of the Iraqis, combined with the provi sion of welfare and public services. Even relatively wealthy Iraqis, in a stricter way than in Jordan, are firmly maintained as ‘outsiders’, in the sense that they cannot access the labour market and are referred to as ‘guests’, indicating that Syria does not expect them to stay permanently. Faced with these restrictions, Iraqis adopt a wide range of coping mechanisms.
These include working illegally in low level jobs (waiters, delivery, factories, prostitution), more rarely working illegally in better jobs according to their skills, registering a business through a Syrian partner and to-and-fro migration from Iraq. Some families are supported by a breadwinner residing in Iraq and/or receive occasional support from family members resid ing in other countries.
Most UNHR-registered Iraqis qualify for food assistance, which is distributed every two months in bulk. Those classified as ‘most vulnerable’ by UNHCR also receive monthly cash assistance of SYP 7 000 (around USD 150), plus SYP 700 (around USD 15) for each de pendent. As of September 2009, around 13 000 Iraqi families received financial assistance from UNHCR in Syria. In Jordan, between January and June 2009, around 6780 Iraqi fami lies received cash assistance.61 Historically, the Syrian government has been highly suspicious of allowing Western NGOs to operate on its territory; the Iraqi crisis has led to a moderate change in this matter. The Dan ish Refugee Council, the Italian NGO Movimondo and Caritas have scaled up operations to aid Iraqis and a number of other NGOs have applied for permits. Most notably, NGOs have helped in the primary and secondary education sector, building schools. Others provide vo cational training to Iraqi refugees and organize youth activities.62 The presence of these NGOs, whose remit extends only to Iraqi refugees and which have to date not been permit ted to provide services to destitute Syrians (a notable difference from Jordan, where they are required to extend services to all poor), threatens the government’s control of information about Syrian internal issues, which is perceived as a loss of sovereignty. By minimizing the contact between NGOs and Syrian citizens, the government attempts to control this danger.
Foreign Relations Syria’s relations with Iraq suffered a sharp turn for the worse in August 2009, after Iraq ac cused Syria of harbouring members of Iraq’s former regime and of training suicide bombers, who consequently killed dozens of people in Baghdad. The accusations came after a publicly televised confession by an Iraqi terrorist, that he and others had received training from Syrian intelligence officials near the Syrian town of Lattakia. Syria dismissed the accusations as UNHCR Syria Update Autumn 2009 and UNHCR Jordan, Assistance and Protection 2009 Mid-Year Report For a list of NGOs working with UNHCR Syria see: UNHCR Syria. 2009. "A round up of 2008." In UNHCR Syria Updates, ed. UNHCR. Damascus: UNHCR Syria.
ludicrous, pointing towards its care for hundreds and thousands of Iraqis on its soil – but also refused to hand over the former regime figures Iraq wished to arrest.63 Which government is speaking the truth on this matter is not known, but the episode high lights the complex ways in which the Iraqi refugees can be used as a strategic trump card in Iraqi-Syrian relations. Should any maltreatment of Iraqis by Syrian authorities be published, the Iraqi government could use this for complaints. Should Syria on the other hand allow Iraqis to work and invest, Syria could be accused of facilitating a brain drain from Iraq.