August 09, 2007

The US occupation of Iraq just keeps on giving.

In this case, that gift is the millions of refugees who've fled Iraq for neighboring countries. About 1.4 million of those refugees have landed in Syria, and they now make up 8 percent of that country's population. The presence of the refugees is 'pushing Syria to the edge,' according to a report by freelance journalist Hugh Naylor.

"The situation is starting to scare a lot of people," said Samir Taqqi, a political analyst at the Orient Center for Studies, a Damascus think tank.

Public services are deteriorating. State-run hospitals, inundated by tens of thousands of Iraqis seeking free medical care, are short on staff and medical supplies. Unable to afford serving cafeteria food, many are asking patients to bring their own.

At public schools across Damascus, the capital, overwhelmed teachers are forced to work double shifts to accommodate Iraqis pushing class sizes to as high as 70 students. Meanwhile, rolling power blackouts blanket the city for up to five hours a day because the country's electrical grid can't meet increasing energy demands during one of the warmest summers on record. Blackouts in some suburbs reportedly last up to 12 hours.

"The Syrian economy doesn't have the resources to sustain current subsidies for food and energy," said Taqqi.

One way to understand the magnitude of Syria's refugee crisis is to try to imagine what things in the US would be like if, over the course of 4 years, more than 28 million Mexican refugees poured into the country as the result of a civil war. Both the sheer magnitude of the immigration and the presence of a large, unstable country next door would wreak havoc on the US economy and political institutions. While I doubt that Dubya's administration had any idea of the refugee problem that would result from the US-led invasion of Iraq, this magpie is certain that Syria's refugee-related troubles aren't causing anyone in the White House to shed even crocodile tears.

As Naylor's report points out, however, Syria is not the only country dealing with a huge influx of Iraqi refugees. Jordan is hosting 700,000 Iraqis — in other words, more than 1 in 10 residents of Jordan have fled Iraq. This situation is no doubt reminding Jordanian officials (and probably the Syrian government as well) of an earlier influx of Palestinian refugees that resulted in armed battles between government forces and armed Palestinian militants in the early 1970s.

Addition: I didn't quite complete my thought there at the end. The reason I brought up the experience of the Jordanians in dealing with a large Palestinian refugee population was to draw an analogy between the regional results of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the current occupation of Iraq. In the latter confict, action — or lack of action — by the US created and perpetuated a state of affairs (lack of a viable Palestinian state) that has kept the region in an uproar for the last 40 years or so. And which, arguably, led to the 9/11 attacks. My suspicion is that the refugee crisis in Syria and Jordan may be one of the first signs that the Iraq occupation is causing similar regional problems — and that no one in the White House gives a sh*t.

Via SF Chronicle.

Posted by Magpie at August 9, 2007 11:37 AM | Iraq | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |