- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Among the many tragic and intriguing questions of the future of Iraq concerns the war-torn country’s many millions of refugees. Where they end up, how they are settled or re-settled, where, with what financial backing, against whose objections and with what security measures make this a subject of great import for the future of the Middle East. Since the Iraq invasion in 2003, at least 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted. Iraq’s is thus one of the world’s great refugee crises, in league at least by the numbers with major humanitarian crises such as those in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

About half of these 4.7 million refugees remain in Iraq as internally displaced strangers in their own country. Over two million have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan. These two countries have born the greatest refugee inflow, and, for that reason, seem likely to be key to any long-term resolution. Pockets of Iraqi refugees are scattered in other countries. With the exception of Sweden, Western nations — including the United States — have been reluctant to accept many Iraqis. Western nations have tended to admit a few thousand here and a few hundred there. As is the case in the United States, admissions targets of several thousand per year are set. They are subsequently undermined by administrative difficulties, resulting in fewer admittances.

Very likely the calculation of Western governments is to demur on the subject until the moment that a clearer indication of Iraq’s future emerges. This includes the United States. These nations do not want to accept a great inflow of refugees today in the event that Iraqis in the future are able to return to Iraq. Nor do they want to accept them in the event that Syria and Jordan can be convinced to keep them, or are forced to keep them. The latter option might well be necessary in the event that Iraq never reaches a level of stability in which repatriation could occur.

Of course, the ideal scenario is premised on a future peaceful Iraq that is stable and safe for refugee return. But as Syria and Jordan can both attest, repatriation remains a distant goal. The more immediately attainable scenario involves resettlement in those two countries. In some respects, for reasons of geography and geopolitics, it may already be fated that these two countries will be forced into this outcome in the event that re-settlement cannot occur.

In the past, Jordan has come under fire for referring to its Iraqis as “visitors,” not refugees. Syria, meanwhile, most likely views its record of cross-border exacerbation of American troubles in Iraq as one of its few chits in the eventual resolution of this subject.

Look for the question of Iraqi refugees to be settled as a matter of expediency, as such questions usually are.

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