Update on Iraqi refugees: conditions no better

Iraq: The Ignored Victims is the title of a September 14 article by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the New York Review of Books. He visited Iraq and surrounding countries to see the situation for himself. What he found seems little changed from previous reports.

The humanitarian consequences of this seven-year war on Iraqi civilians are too often unreported. Since 2003, 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, mainly to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, while another two million have been dislocated inside Iraq, many of whom are now living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of Baghdad and other cities. Neighboring countries have by and large been willing to allow in fleeing Iraqis, though often without offering them any legal status; and this influx has created severe strains on their own populations and resources. To be fair, the international community, led by the United States, has provided basic assistance to these Iraqis and a small number have been resettled in third countries, including in the US and Europe, but a long-term solution to this mass displacement has been elusive.

At one point a couple of years ago the Iraqi government was making attempts to get refugees back and to settle the property disputes that prevented many of them from returning. I haven’t heard anything about that for a long time, and since a government hasn’t been able to form since the elections months ago, it’s doubtful anybody is thinking about refugees at all.

The Cardinal reports briefly on the situation for Christians:

Moreover, Iraqi Christians continue to be targets of systematic violence, especially in Mosul and Ninevah. These Christians belong to ancient communities that once grew and thrived in Iraq but now face potential disappearance there. Christians in Iraq told me of threats they had received to abandon their faith or risk death. Others described how their homes or churches had been attacked.

On August 25, at the time of the US troop withdrawal, Iraqi soldiers reportedly filled the streets of Mosul, anticipating a resurgence in sectarian violence. If there is not an increase in security in Christian neighborhoods, any chance for Christians to return to Iraq in the near future and reestablish their communities is not bright.

This too sounds just like what was being reported a couple of years ago. Since numbers are hard to come by, the reports at that time let me to expect that the Christian communities were pretty well on their way out. It sounds like they’re hanging on, but we still have no idea of what that means in terms of actual numbers.

I doubt the future is bright for any of these refugees. We have some responsibility for the situation, but I doubt there is the will to put forth the effort to create a law-abiding society, to figure out how to get the refugees back safely, or to protect the threatened Christians. Perhaps it’s not possible to do this at all.

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