Iraq exodous greatest since 1948

While the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left hundreds of thousands of that country’s residents dead or wounded, it has also sent some 2 million Iraqis fleeing their homeland — often replacing once secure lives with new ones defined by fear and poverty.

Yet the United States, the force behind the war that is driving Iraqis from their home, has done little, if anything, to welcome such refugees within its borders.

Reports Sudarsan Raghavan of The Washington Post:

As the fourth year of war nears its end, the Middle East’s largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 is unfolding in a climate of fear, persecution and tragedy.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis — about 8 percent of the prewar population — have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq’s recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

The United Nations is struggling to find funding to assist Iraqi refugees. Fewer than 500 have been resettled in the United States since the invasion. Aid officials and human rights activists say the United States and other Western nations are focused on reconstructing Iraq while ignoring the war’s human fallout.

“It’s probably political,” said Janvier de Riedmatten, U.N. refugee agency representative for Iraq, referring to the reason why the world hasn’t helped Iraq’s refugees.

“The Iraq story has to be a success story,” he said.