On wartime exodus and fugee blues

The Iraq refugee crisis encourages the international community to consider refugee responsibility.

Ramla Bile

A significant number of Iraqi refugees are among the country’s most vulnerable minority populations, including Palestinians, Christians, Shia Kurds, Jews and the near extinct Mandeans. The Mandeans of Iraq, practitioners of a following among the world’s oldest religions, have been reduced from 30,000 to only 5,000 in Iraq. The country’s 35,000 Palestinians, who settled in the country after the 1948 Nakba or “the catastrophe” highlighting the expulsion from Israel, are now less than 15,000. Movement is indeed a theme of the Palestinian narrative, movement from Iraq is the latest chapter. Already Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are taking measures to close their borders. The two biggest hosts, Syria and Jordan have welcomed a combined 2 million Iraqi refugees; other Iraqis have found refuge in Kuwait and other Gulf states. Ironically, Syria, the ultimate rogue state according to the United States, bears the greatest refugee burden – a burden that ought to be shared by others.

Refugees not only require sustenance and adequate livability, but also protection and the establishment of policies to facilitate the transition, regardless of whether repatriation is a possibility. The Iraq refugee crisis presents several questions regarding international norms and refugees. For instance, what are appropriate asylum space and adequate financing, and what happens when host nations do not have proper resources to maintain refugee populations? Is it acceptable to set up refugee camps, and what happens when these camps become permanent homes, as is the case with many Palestinian refugees in the Middle East? Furthermore, who should bear the greatest responsibility for refugees? Is there more reasonability placed on the inciting nation or should the responsibility be distributed equally among developed nations?

Burden-sharing initiatives are not something the international community can mandate, as such rulings would infringe upon the sovereignty of nations. However, there ought to be more serious discussions on the role of inciting nations in facilitating the refugee problem. If such nations cannot host refugees, there should be international financial support for those willing nations. Furthermore, while it might appear unlikely for international bodies to mandate offensive states to protect refugees, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other widely accepted conventions, recognize the right to asylum and freedom from persecution that all people ought to enjoy.

It’s unfair for bordering nations to bear responsibly; Syria and Jordan had no part in the invasion of Iraq. In the end, the Iraqi refugee question comes back to the United States and the United Kingdom, as the two nations were the major proponents for the Iraq war. Regarding the United States, perhaps this issue can be resolved by the redirecting of funds. An adequate starting point would be the two largest aid recipients – Egypt and Israel: the first, which is effectively a dictatorship, and the latter, which radically restricts and denies the movement and livelihood of Palestinians in the occupied territories. But aside from monetary contributions and the pressing question of sustaining existing refugee communities, there is also the larger question of establishing a secure Iraq where a right to return is possible. These countries bear the additional burden of creating a space where return is possible for all Iraqis.

Ultimately, a greater commitment to international burden-sharing would relieve struggling populations of suffering and would advocate newer norms for the international community regarding the question of refugees. Such norms could possibly exist as deterrence of war.

Ramla Bile welcomes comments at [email protected]