Keep Iraqi refugees from becoming radicalized: help them go home

Ken Bacon, who last appeared on Refugee Resettlement Watch in November, ridiculously urging President-Elect Obama to bring in more than 100,000 Iraqi refugees in one year, seems to have come to his senses since then.  On December 22 he posted a good entry on his organization’s blog titled “The Risk of Radicalized Refugees.”  Bacon is the head of Refugees International, the lobbying arm of the refugee industry.

Bacon cites a New York Times article about angry youths in refugee camps in Darfur who have become more radical than their elders, the tribal sheikhs. They are bored, with nothing to do, uprooted from their lives and traditions, and receiving a little education — about enough to be dangerous, it seems.   

Education in the camps, which often stops at the eighth grade, has to a degree expanded the horizons of men like Mr. Ismael. English was not taught in their now-razed villages, for instance. But their heightened awareness has also stoked their outrage about the wrongs committed against them and about their lack of opportunity.

“You cannot call them a unified group with one political ideology, but they are all angry,” said Mr. Khater, the writer. “That is the factor unifying them.”

The article concludes:

“The government has created a powder keg that it doesn’t know how to defuse,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum with wide experience in the camps.

Bacon relates this story to the Iraqi refugees:

The story caught my eye because it highlights a serious problem:  long stays in camps—either as refugees out of their countries or displaced within their own countries—can radicalize youth.  We have seen this over the years with Palestinians and with Afghan refugees, and we could well see it with displaced Iraqi youths who are living in increasingly desperate conditions.

Although most of the nearly five million displaced Iraqis don’t live in camps, they endure many of the same problems—economic hardship, limited educational opportunities, and long, boring days with little reason to hope that they will return home soon or have an opportunity to work.   While girls are often busy helping their mothers, young men have less to do, making them susceptible to recruitment by political or militia movements.

Heading off the potential radicalization of Iraqi youth should be a top priority for the government of Iraq and for the U.S.  This means resolving the displacement crisis—one out of every five Iraqis is either a refugee or internally displaced—as quickly as possible.

I think that’s right. And to his credit, Bacon doesn’t even bring up third-country resettlement. He goes straight to the point:

But neither Iraq nor the region will be safe and stable if five million Iraqis are still displaced, with 2.7 million in Iraq and the rest living as refugees in Jordan, Syria and other nearby countries.  The only sensible, durable solution is to create conditions for safe return, something that is going to require coordination by the U.S. and Iraq.  The government of Iraq has only started to deal with a host of complex legal and property issues necessary to encourage return.  But most important, Iraq will have to demonstrate that it can keep its cities safe and provide the services, including schools, that returning Iraqis need.

If the refugee agencies are really concentrating on helping to create the conditions for the safe return of the refugees, that would be welcome news indeed. I have a feeling it’s not that simple. But perhaps with Bush-hatred no longer clouding their minds, they can see more clearly what needs to be done, and work to help make it happen.

Hat tip: Matthew Hay Brown at the Baltimore Sun

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *