Mundher Shawi / Azzaman & Mundher al-Shawfi / Azzaman – 2009-03-02 21:48:44
Syria Says Iraqi Refugees Turn into ‘Unbearable’ Economic Burden
Mundher Shawi / Azzaman
DAMASCUS (February 25, 2009) — Syria says the presence of more than a million Iraqi refugees is stretching its strapped economic resources to the limit and has asked other Arab countries for help.
It has asked a forthcoming Arab foreign ministers conference scheduled for March to place Iraqi refugees’ issue on their agenda, saying it can no longer bear paying for their stay on its territory.
Syria has been spending up to $2 billion a year on Iraqi refugees and that its efforts to persuade donor countries and international aid organizations for help have almost gone unheeded.
Syria cooperates with the UN refugee organization, UNHCR, and the UN Children’s fund, UNICEF, but both bodies’ budgets are highly limited.
Syria is the world’s most tolerant country vis-à-vis the plight of Iraqi refugees. Unlike states with claims to democracy and human rights, such as Sweden, it has never forced refugees back home.
Sweden has mobilized its police force for a crackdown on nearly 5,000 Iraqi refugees it says they have failed the tests of its Migration Board to stay in the country. Parents with children, some of them born in Sweden, are rounded up, handcuffed and jailed before their deportation.
Even the countries directly and morally responsible for Iraqis plight have done nothing to alleviate Iraqi refugee suffering. The US and the UK whose troops invaded Iraq and devastated its towns and cities with their ongoing bombing and invasions have shamefully shrugged their responsibilities.
In Syria Iraqis live anywhere they want and are not obliged to stay in separate quarters or camps. As a result, they are entitled to social and public amenities which Syria says have cost up to $2billion every year since 2006.
Sweden Toughens Stance on Iraqi Refugees
STOCKHOLM (February 18, 2009) — The Swedish government is tightening rules under which Iraqi refugees seeking asylum could stay in the country and is using force to have them deported.
It recently mobilized its police forces to round up hundreds of Iraqis, among them babies born in Sweden, and force them back home.
Flats were stormed at midnight in several cities amid the cries of children. There are reports of mothers fainting on seeing their children hauled into police cars to detention centers before deportation.
The crackdown is in contrast to the tolerance the Swedish authorities have shown to the plight of Iraqis whose country has been devastated by US invasion troops and sectarian strife.
The police usually separate children from their parents on the pretext that they need to take better care of them while in detention prior to their deportation.
In one instance, a few crying children were kept for at least three nights away from their parents at a time Sweden is internationally known to be more caring to children than any other country in the world.
Many of the children deported recently had spent years in Swedish schools and would find it extremely difficult to join Iraqi schools where the curriculum and language are so different.
The refugees, most of them handcuffed, are forced to board planes especially hired to carry them to Baghdad amid tight security and in the presence of armed Swedish guards.
Swedish newspapers have published pictures of police dragging Iraqis by force to board planes at the airport in Stockholm.
The tough measures have sent a wave of terror and fear among the nearly 5,000 Iraqi asylum seekers whose cases the Swedish Migration Board has turned down.
Many blame the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for striking a deal with the Swedish authorities, which allows them to hunt down Iraqi refugees and dump them on the Baghdad International Airport.
But still they cannot understand how come a tolerant and liberal country like Sweden is involved in such practices.
Maliki has been harshly criticized in the local press for the agreement.
The regional Kurdish government in the north, which has refused to accept the deal, has urged the central government not to welcome Iraqi refugees residing in Western countries so long as conditions in the country are not secure and safe.
Iraqi Government Careless about Its Own Refugees – Minister
Mundher al-Shawfi / Azzaman
BAGHDAD (February 27, 2009) — The Iraqi ministry which is supposed to look after Iraqi refugees says its coffers are empty despite urgent needs.
Displacement and Migration Minister Abdulsamad Sultan said he could not even afford paying the travel expenses of Iraqi refugees willing to return home.
There are no exact figures on the numbers of Iraqis who had to flee the country or leave their homes in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The ministry estimates the number of Iraqi refugees in neighboring states to amount to 2 million people.
More than one million reside in Syria whose government says their presence has turned into an unbearable economic burden.
Iraqi authorities have done almost nothing to help Iraqi refugees in neighboring states despite unprecedented oil revenues in the past two years.
Legally, all Iraqis are entitled to subsidized food rations but it is not clear what the authorities are doing with the monthly share of fleeing families.
Sultan said he was still waiting for allocations but declined to say whether any sums have been earmarked for refugees in the budget.
The government has promised to compensate returning families but the minister said the law regulating payments still remains on the shelf.
“There are 240,000 internally displaced families but the ministry has no resources to arrange for their resettlement in their original cities and quarters,” Sultan said.
The average number of an Iraqi family is at least six people. That means there are about 1.5 million internally displaced Iraqis besides the millions who have fled abroad.
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