yarmouk camp

yarmouk camp
Yarmouk Refugee Camp

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Syrian Refugee Crisis, Part 2, Iraq. By Bruce McLaren

Now it is time to survey the plight of the refugees in the countries that immediately border Syria - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - for it is they who harbor most of these poor and downtrodden. This blog will begin with a look at the situation in Iraq, but first we need a recap as to what is going on that has caused this catastrophe.

Despite the complexities involved in speaking about the current conflict in Syria, it can actually be broken down into relatively simple statements, largely looking at demographics with the assistance of the map below. 

The pink area is currently held by the Assadist Regime, led by Bashar Assad, son of Hafeez Assad, who led a Baathist Coup in 1970. The Assad's are Alawites, who take their name from Ali, which itself is indicative of Shi'ite tendencies, which explains their links with Iran and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Alawites, however, are often accused of merely resorting to taqiyah, the right to pretend to adhere to another religion if need be. Many condemn the Alawites as actual heathens who worship the moon and observe certain Christian rights. They are hated in the extreme by Sunni Muslims. The Alawites first enter the history books 1000 years ago, as pastoralists of the an-Nusayriyah Mountains that border the Mediterranean Sea. For centuries they have been persecuted by the Sunni majority of Syria. Since gaining power, they have returned the favor. The Alawites only make up 2.5 million of the 22 million Syrians, compared to 16 million Sunni Muslims. They now have repossessed all of the rich lands in the west, along with the major cities that line the Orontes River Valley. They are currently in the ascendancy, driving refugees out in ever greater numbers.

Syria. The Fortunes and Misfortunes Of War
The green areas are controlled by the various rebel groups. I say various rebel groups because there are close to 1000 of them, each tied into ever larger and larger alliances, finally all under the umbrella of the Islamic Front. These alliances are as rock solid as oil, constantly shifting and changing. The Free Syria Army (FSA) is also in there as the reluctantly supported token force by the United States. But they, along with the Islamic Front, are backpedaling. Both the Islamic Front and the FSA lack international support, and even though such a small minority as the Alawites may appear at first glance like a push-over, they are a very formidable force, with a standing army of 200 000, conventional Russian tanks. hundreds of attack aircraft and so on. The Rebels are strongest in the north, around Aleppo and Idlib, which is no small thing as that part of the country, especially the Plain of Aleppo, holds 25% of the population due to its agricultural wealth. But as any farmer will tell you it is difficult to plant crops when bullets are flying around.

The black area is no mans land but somewhere in the middle of it all is the course marked by the mighty Euphrates, the southern border of tradition Mesopotamia. Here, surrounded by desert lurks ISIS, seemingly deciding to lie low for a while, which the inhabitants of these regions, who have a greater conception of time and a greater capacity to wait, are wont to do. There is no doubt that ISIS has left an imprint of the Western mind, but I think their days will be numbered.

The yellow areas represent the Kurds. Those areas might not look like much but  there are actually close to 2 million Kurds in Syria. Just take a look at this second map below. The Brown area represents the Kurdish nation. There are close to 30 million Kurds total! In fact, that whole area just over the Turkish border is almost solidly Kurdish. The Kurds are the Indo-European descendants of the ancient Medes, who were tough as nails. No wonder they Turks are always so on edge about the Kurds...

Brown Area Designates Kurds
So, there you have it. Now let's look at Iraq.

There are 9 refugee camps in Iraq, all run by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission For Refugees). Their location is shown on the map below, which, in itself says rather a lot. The camps are all located in the far north of Iraq, in the three provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi provinces effectively ruled by the Kurds.

So it comes as no surprise that the 250 000 refugees registered with the UNHCR are mostly Kurds, fleeing mainly from the threat of ISIS in the last year or so, Of all the countries that border Syria, Iraq is one of the least effected by the now 4 million Syrian refugees. 

This is not simply due to the much lower numbers, when compared to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but Iraq is already a semi-anarchic chaotic mess. It may understandably seem strange that refugees would flee to Iraq, when only in the last decade we have witnessed a mass exodus of Iraqis, many into no less a place than Syria! There are reports that this is indeed what happened to half a million Assyrian Christian refugees, who then turned south to Jordan, There are now an estimated 500 000 Iraqis living in Jordan, a country with a population of only 7 millions.

There is one camp in Anbar province and for the life of me I can't figure out who ended up there. I know I wouldn't want to be there! That is ISIS country!

Map Of Iraq. Location Of Syrian Refugee Camps
Most of these camps hold 5000 too 10 000 refugees. The largest is that closest to the Syrian border, Domiz, which has 50 000 refugees. It should be noted that in each neighboring country there is a significant proportion who avoid the camps and go straight to the cities. Many know that once inside a camp it may be difficult to leave and, one may be there for some time. A job in a city has many comparative benefits.

Let's take a look at Domiz, the largest of all the camps. As you can see in the picture below, Domiz is a ramshackle tent-city, high up, cold, wet and muddy. This picture is very typical of how we tend to envision refugee camps. but as we approach Jordan and Turkey we will see that there have been some fairly revolutionary developments associated with this crisis.

Domiz Refugee Camp

But not yet in Iraq. Most of these new developments that I refer to should be attributed to Turkey, and have since been adopted by the UNHCR where they are being employed in Jordan. Unfortunately for these refugees in Domiz life remains very rudimentary.

Domiz Refugee Camp

Domiz Refugee Camp

Domiz Refugee Camp

Or Kawergosk...

Kawergosk Camp. Iraq
Or Akre...

Akre Refugee Camp. Iraq
Now I don't know if it is a case of the UNHCR being such an unwieldy Goliath (no matter how commendably intended) that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, but there is a lack of conformity in UNHCR report by country. Don't get me wrong, they publish a ton of material and do admirable work. But the UNHCR in Iraq publish exceptionally helpful status reports for these camps. It is a shame that the UNHCR in other countries doesn't employ this as a standard format.

Here is such an example. This report is very typical of most reports that you read. All of the fundamentals necessary to survive are provided - shelter, food, water, medicine and such. But every single camp in Iraq falls down on education. Attendance is very low, probably best explained by many of the men staying behind to fight ISIS, which means that the boys are encouraged to go out and scrounge for money, rather than attend school.

Without wanting to bang a drum too loudly it is difficult to understate the importance of education for refugees. As we shall see these refugees are comparatively lucky to those elsewhere, for they are smaller in number and can assimilate into their own. Furthermore, there is a good chance they will one day return. But is some of the massive desert encampments in places like Jordan, only education can give birth to knowledge which will lead to revolutionary ideas. The United States may be a naturally rich country, but still, it was simply ideas by visionaries that led to Microsoft and Google and the thousands upon thousands they provide with a livelihood?

Next week. Jordan...
Standard UNHCR Report For Syrian Refugee Camps In Iraq

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