Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Iraqis coming back

By Libby

The usual warmongers were promoting this victory cheer in the UK's Times this morning. It seems the flow of refugess may indeed be reversing and the author is quick to credit 'the surge.'
The figures are hard to estimate precisely but the process could involve hundreds of thousands of people. The numbers are certainly large enough, as we report today, for a mass convoy to be planned next week as Iraqis who had opted for exile in Syria return to their homeland. It is one of the most striking signs that not only has violence in Baghdad and adjacent provinces decreased dramatically in recent months, but confidence in the economic and political future of Iraq has risen sharply. Nor is this movement the action of men and women who could easily reverse course and turn back again. Tighter visa restrictions imposed by Damascus mean that those who are returning to Iraq cannot assume that they could quickly retreat again to Syria if that suited them. This is, for many, a one-way decision. It represents a vote of confidence in Iraq.
The companion piece that the cheerleaders don't link to, offers a slightly more nuanced view.
...However, it also reflects the tightening of visa regulations by Syria two months ago, making it more difficult for refugees to stay and impossible for most to come back if violence flares up again. The border crossing into Syria is closed for them. Their trip to Iraq is one way.

“Not everyone is returning voluntarily,” a spokeswoman for the UNHCR said. “It’s a mixed picture. Some Iraqis report an improvement in security in Baghdad, while others fear their Syrian visas are running out.”

...Returnees often come back to ethnically cleansed neighbourhoods, sometimes finding their abandoned homes looted or even occupied by families who have fled from other parts of Iraq.
Only those in Syria are coming back as far as I can tell. These were the Iraqis who couldn't afford to get into Jordan where the UN is pumping millions into the school and health system to accomodate the refugees. They weren't allowed to work in Syria. They were living off their savings and they're running out of money. And these are sobering stats on the internally displaced who couldn't afford to leave at all.
— There are 1.9 million Iraqis classified as IDPs
— Of the 18 provinces in Iraq, 10 have restricted access for IDPs. Most are now concentrated in Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala
Syria instituted a visa program this past summer. Most applications are denied.
...[Those who arrived] before the new rules took effect must leave when their three-month permits expire, unless they have been officially recognized by the United Nations as refugees - a process that can take months.

That leaves many people with the choice of returning to Iraq or risking deportation anyway. And with the improving security situation, it appears many Iraqis are opting to return home.
I truly hope they find they still have a home when they arrive. I assume most of the refugees were from mixed neighborhoods that don't exist anymore. Where are they going to go?

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