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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

World Refugee Day

As holidays go, today isn't one of the fun ones. Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. Around the world, people are displaced by genocide, famine, natural disaster, and war. Being a refugee is mainly a matter of bad luck on the part of person and poor planning on the part of the government. Hurricane Katrina showed us that anyone can become a refugee. But it's a problem that mostly haunts the poor.

This year wasn't an extremely good one for refugees. The United Nations tells us we're in a 'World Refugee Crisis,' with refugees up 14% from 2005 and no break in sight. They come from Darfur and Somalia and Afghanistan and Iraq and every refugee's story begins the same way -- something unimaginable happens, you grab the kids and whatever you can carry, and you run like hell. The only destination you have is 'away.' Often, you run from hell to a lesser hell -- hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of iraqis have found themselves in refugee camps in Iran.

In fact, the two crises driving this larger refugee crisis are ethnic cleansing in Sudan and the war in Iraq.


Iraq has emerged as the world's second most unstable country, behind Sudan, more than four years after President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, according to a survey released on Monday.

The 2007 Failed States Index, produced by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, said Iraq suffered a third straight year of deterioration in 2006 with diminished results across a range of social, economic, political and military indicators. Iraq ranked fourth last year.

Afghanistan, another war-torn country where U.S. and NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency nearly six years after a U.S.-led invasion, was in eighth place.

I've been calling Iraq a failed state for a long time. The government is an almost entirely diplomatic team, without any control whatsoever over what goes on in that country. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the war in Iraq alone has created 4.2 million displaced persons -- 2 million inside Iraq and the remainder in neighboring countries. These countries can't continue to take in refugees and are beginning to turn them away. In fact, theyre even being turned away inside Iraq. "Individual governorates inside Iraq are becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced. At least 10 out of the 18 governates have closed their borders or are restricting access to new arrivals," says UNHCR spokesperson, Jennifer Pagonis. "UNHCR is receiving disturbing reports of regional authorities refusing to register new arrivals, including single women, and denying access to government services. Many displaced have been evicted from public buildings."

This leaves the internally displaced in shanty towns where the UNHCR says at least 47% -- nearly half -- have no access to official food distribution channels. Shortly after the war broke out, I remember seeing a news report on a displaced family. They were young, with a little toddler girl, and they were literally living under a rock out in the desert. That was the last time I remember seeing iraqi refugees on TV. I guess as global crises go, there's the telegenic and the untelegenic. I wonder if most people know that there are iraqi refugees at all.

But don't worry, Laura Bush is on it.

CNN's American Morning:

Q In fact, this is World Refugee Day at CNN, we've tried to highlight it -- 500 million people around the world, 400 million people around the world, having to flee their country for whatever reason. One that we're highlighting today also is the situation in Iraq -- people who were helping the Americans or even helping their own country, men and women, rebuild infrastructure, targeted. And they are also seeking refuge in other nations, as well as the United States.

MRS. BUSH: Sure, in Lebanon and Syria and Jordan, and then here. And I think Americans would be proud to know that we welcome to our country more refugees than all the rest of the nations combined. And obviously we're especially concerned about the Iraqi refugees, people who are there who are trying to build their government, trying to build a stable country, which is what our goal is, as well, who have left because of terror, really, because of the chance of violence and the fear of violence.

We welcome many of those refugees, both from Iraq and Afghanistan into the United States. We also spend about $80 million a year working with refugees, Iraqi refugees in the camps in Lebanon.

Yeah, they only have to make it across Africa -- including a trek across the Sahara -- then a brief swim in the Atlantic Ocean, and they're home free. I'm so proud... Allow me to refer back to an earlier post to give you an idea of what we're really doing for refugees:

...The [International] Herald Tribune tells us that the US State Department plans to spend $20 million on aiding refugees. Do the math; that's a little more than ten bucks per refugee for the internally displaced alone. That ought to go a long way.

We're big on creating refugees, but not so much on solving the problem. When I wrote that, there were 1.8 million internally displaced, now there's 2 million and spending hasn't increased. Not that it'd make much difference -- if we increased our spending in proportion to the growth of the population, we'd still be spending jack. Ten bucks per might last a day. I don't know where Laura Bush is getting the $80 million figure for Lebanon alone from, but I suspect it's from Karl Rove's butt.

A better idea of the concerns of the administration for iraqis struggling for their lives comes from the president himself.

60 Minutes:

Asked if he thinks he owes the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job, Bush says, "Well I don't, that we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?"

"Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion?" [interviewer Scott] Pelley clarifies.

"Not at all. I think I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq," Bush replies.

That kid living under a rock in the desert is just a griper if she complains. The administration believes she's living the sweet life. Kind of explains the response to Hurricane Katrina, doesn't it?


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1 comment:

timroth1618 said...

Good article. You touched on key point about awareness of the Iraqi refugee problem. Unfortunately, not enough people are aware of the refugee situation in Iraq. The very existence of the problem is troubling enough, but many of these refugees are engineers, teachers, and nurses - people crucial to rebuilding a broken country.

Also, allow me to World Refugee Day even more depressing by mentioning the upcoming refugee crisis that will be created by rising sea levels. Not only will some South Pacific nations disappear entirely under the rising sea level, tens of millions of people living along ocean coasts will have to leave their homes.

We as a world have work to do...