in seven joins human tide spilling into neighbouring
By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaymaniyah
-- -- Two thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homes every
day. It is the greatest mass exodus of people ever in the
Middle East and dwarfs anything seen in Europe since the
Second World War. Four million people, one in seven Iraqis,
have run away, because if they do not they will be killed.
Two million have left Iraq, mainly for Syria and Jordan, and
the same number have fled within the country.
Yet, while the US and Britain express sympathy for the
plight of refugees in Africa, they are ignoring - or playing
down- a far greater tragedy which is largely of their own
The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters
that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the
shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and
neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore.
Even so the UNHCR is having difficulty raising $100m (£50m)
for relief. The organisation says the two countries caring
for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees - Syria and
Jordan - have still received "next to nothing from the world
community". Some 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria
according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Jordan has
taken in 750 000 while Egypt and Lebanon have seen 200 000
Iraqis cross into their territories.
Potential donors are reluctant to spent money inside Iraq
arguing the country has large oil revenues. They are either
unaware, or are ignoring the fact that the Iraqi
administration has all but collapsed outside the Baghdad
Green Zone. The US is spending $2bn a week on military
operations in Iraq according to the Congressional Research
Service but many Iraqis are dying because they lack drinking
water costing a few cents.
Kalawar refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah is a microcosm of the
misery to which millions of Iraqis have been reduced.
"At least it is safe here," says Walid Sha'ad Nayef, 38, as
he stands amid the stink of rotting garbage and raw sewage.
He fled from the lethally dangerous Sa'adiyah district in
Baghdad 11 months ago. As we speak to him, a man silently
presents us with the death certificate of his son, Farez
Maher Zedan, who was killed in Baghdad on 20 May 2006.
Kalawar is a horrible place. Situated behind a petrol
station down a dusty track, the first sight of the camp is
of rough shelters made out of rags, torn pieces of cardboard
and old blankets. The stench is explained by the fact the
Kurdish municipal authorities will not allow the 470 people
in the camp to dig latrines. They say this might encourage
them to stay.
"Sometimes I go to beg," says Talib Hamid al-Auda, a voluble
man with a thick white beard looking older than his fifty
years. As he speaks, his body shakes, as if he was trembling
at the thought of the demeaning means by which he feeds his
family. Even begging is difficult because the people in the
camp are forbidden to leave it on Thursday, Friday and
Saturday. Suspected by Kurds of being behind a string of
house robberies, though there is no evidence for this, they
are natural scapegoats for any wrong-doing in their
Refugees are getting an increasingly cool reception wherever
they flee, because there are so many of them and because of
the burden they put on resources. "People here blame us for
forcing up rents and the price of food," said Omar, who had
taken his family to Damascus after his sister's leg was
fractured by a car bomb.
The refugees in Kalawar had no option but to flee. Of the 97
families here, all but two are Sunni Arabs. Many are from
Sa'adiyah in west Baghdad where 84 bodies were found by
police between 18 June and 18 July. Many are young men whose
hands had been bound and who had been tortured.
"The majority left Baghdad because somebody knocked on the
door of their house and told them to get out in an hour,"
says Rosina Ynzenga, who runs the Spanish charity Solidarity
International (SIA) which pays for a mobile clinic to visit
Sulaymaniyah municipality is antagonistic to her doing more.
One Kurdish official suggested that the Arabs of Kalawar
were there simply for economic reasons and should be given
$200 each and sent back to Baghdad.
Mr Nayef, the mukhtar (mayor) of the camp who used to be a
bulldozer driver in Baghdad, at first said nobody could
speak to journalists unless we had permission from the
authorities. But after we had ceremoniously written our
names in a large book he relented and would, in any case,
have had difficulty in stopping other refugees explaining
Asked to list their worst problems Mr Nayef said they were
the lack of school for the children, shortage of food, no
kerosene to cook with, no money, no jobs and no electricity.
The real answer to the question is that the Arabs of Kalawar
have nothing. They have only received two cartons of food
each from the International Committee of the Red Cross and a
tank of clean water.
Even so they are adamant that they dare not return to
Baghdad. They did not even know if their houses had been
taken over by others.
Abla Abbas, a mournful looking woman in black robes, said
her son had been killed because he went to sell plastic bags
in the Shia district of Khadamiyah in west Baghdad. The poor
in Iraq take potentially fatal risks to earn a little money.
The uncertainty of the refugees' lives in Kalawar is
mirrored in their drawn faces. While we spoke to them there
were several shouting matches. One woman kept showing us a
piece of paper from the local authority in Sulaymaniyah
giving her the right to stay there. She regarded us
nervously as if we were officials about to evict her.
There are in fact three camps at Kalawar. Although almost
all the refugees are Sunni they come from different places
and until a month ago they lived together. But there were
continual arguments. The refugees decided that they must
split into three encampments: one from Baghdad, a second
from Hillah, south of Baghdad, and a third from Diyala, the
mixed Sunni-Shia province that has been the scene of
ferocious sectarian pogroms.
Governments and the media crudely evaluate human suffering
in Iraq in terms of the number killed. A broader and better
barometer would include those who have escaped death only by
fleeing their homes, their jobs and their country to go and
live, destitute and unwanted, in places like Kalawar. The US
administration has 18 benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq
but the return of four million people to their homes is not
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
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