Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Iraq Refugee Crisis Exploding"

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From today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Iraq is in the throes of the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948, a mass flight out of and within the country that is ravaging basic services and commerce, swamping neighboring nations with nearly 2 million refugees and building intense pressure for emigration to Europe and the United States, according to the United Nations and refugee experts.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which appealed for $60 million in emergency aid last week, believes 1.7 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, whose prewar population was 21 million. About 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing inside Iraq each month, the United Nations said, and 500,000 have been displaced since last February's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. These figures are as of January 2007.

The Bush administration and the governments of Jordan and Syria, the nations that accept the bulk of the refugees, have been reluctant to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis, experts said.

Of course; what else would you expect? Bush could hardly acknowledge the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and still tell Scott Pelley that Iraqis "owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude."

Sen. Edward Kennedy continues his one-man effort to stand up for simple human decency:

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has scheduled a hearing today to push for more aid and more U.S. admissions of refugees, especially those facing death threats for working for the U.S. military.

At Kennedy's hearing, the State Department is expected to call for a slight increase in Iraqi admissions to the United States. Just 220 Iraqis were admitted last year, most of them not from the war. The Department of Homeland Security worries that it would be difficult to screen out terrorists.

"I would suspect that the Department of Homeland Security would regard it as a complete security nightmare," Newland said.

Kristele Younes, an advocate at Refugees International, said the refugee problem is growing rapidly.

"At the moment, we're seeing up to 80,000 to 100,000 that are being displaced every month," inside and outside the country, she said. "In Syria alone, there are estimations that there's about 40,000 Iraqis that are coming every month."

Roughly 40 percent of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled, the U.N. said. Most are fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return.

All kinds of people, from university professors to bakers, have been targeted by militias, insurgents and criminals. An estimated 331 school teachers were slain in the first four months of last year, according to Human Rights Watch, and at least 2,000 Iraqi doctors have been killed and 250 kidnapped since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Business owners are especially prone to extortion.

The flight has undermined basic services such as water and sanitation and disrupted commerce, making it increasingly difficult for Iraqi society to function, officials said.

But not to worry. Those 20,000 extra troops are on their way to make everything all better.

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