Thursday, September 24, 2009

Iraqi refugees & prison break

Xinhua reports that 16 prisoners have escaped from a Tikrit prison after they "broke through a ventilation duct in the prison" -- five of the sixteen were on death row. Al Jazeera cites Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf claiming six "are considered dangerous" (they also go with the number of "at least 15" for the escapees). Reuters goes with 16 escaped and one captured post-escaped. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) adds that Tirket is now under "complete curfew" and that "The facility from which the inmates escaped was a makeshift prison, built on the compounds of one of Saddam's former palaces. Inmates were housed in a former school of Islamic studies, surrounded by tall concrete blast wallas and gaurd towers."

Meanwhile Minority Rights Group International has released a new report on Iraqi refugees. The report, written by Chris Chapman and Preti Taneja, is entitled [PDF format warning] "Uncertain Refuge, Dangerous Return: Iraq's Uprooted Minorities" and is 37 pages of text (followed by endnotes).

The report notes the minority groups in Iraq: Baha'is, Black Iraqis (ancestors "believed to have migrated from East Africa"), Christians, Armenians, Chaldo-Assyrians, Cicassians, Faili Kurds, Jews, Palestinians, Roma, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabacks, Turkmen and Yazidis. Yes, that is a bit more complex than the Sunni-Shi'ite pimped by the media repeatedly. (Yes, sometimes they'll toss in Sunni-Shi'ite-Kurd and they really seem eager for Arab v. Kurd.) The minority groups are repeatedly targeted and have been since the start of the Iraq War:

Many of Iraq’s minority communities have been present in the country for more than two millennia. Others have made their homes there over generations. During the conflict that began in 2003, minorities had suffered disproportionate levels of targeted violence because of their religions and ethnicities, and have formed a large proportion of those displaced, either by fleeing to neighbouring countries or seeking asylum further afield.
Today, the survival of Iraq’s minority communities remains at high risk, even as the focus of international attention shifts from Iraq to conflicts elsewhere. Inside Iraq, the threat of violence against minorities is still very real. Across Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains where Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen have historical roots, violence shows no signs of abating. Recent attacks have particularly targeted Turkmen villages. This is connected to the struggle over Kirkuk and Nineveh, which is escalating between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government. Minorities are caught between the two, and their relatively smaller numbers and lack of recourse to justice contribute to their vulnerability.

The report notes the minority communities have left Iraq and "scattered across the world" -- a dispersion that puts the communities at risk of losing many traditions and rites as well as at risk of host governments with little grasp of the communities. Host governments also are feeling an economic pinch -- the report does not note that Nouri al-Maliki publicly boasted that Iraqi money would be sent to those hosting refugees and that it still hasn't happened -- which further leaves Iraqi refugees at risk.

On the press loved but factually unsound Myth of the Great Return, the report notes:

This has led some asylum countries to start deporting rejected asylum-seekers back to Iraq. Returns, however, must be viewed in the context of refugee situations. Many refugees find it difficult to afford to stay in the countries to which they have fled, not least if they have not been granted permission to work. Meanwhile, the Government of Iraq, in collaboration with host governments, is providing incentives for people to go back. But the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other organizations, including MRG, do not yet consider it safe to return to Iraq. The verdict of minorities, according to testimony collected in Jordan, Syria and Sweden, three countries where the Iraqi minority presence is particularly high, is striking: despite incentives, none of those from
minority communities interviewed for this report said they would ever return to reintegrate in Iraq.

I know it's Thursday and that the US' manic depressive Ambassador to Iraq peaked some time ago, but could someone please consider reading the above paragraph to Chris Hill who continues to insist not only that Iraqi refugees must return but that the fate of Iraq hinges on their return. You have to wonder how Chris Hill would have handled Germany if he'd been the US Ambassador there post-WWII?

If Hill still can't get it, read him this testimony from a 55-year-old Armenian now living in Damascus:

"In Baghdad there was unlimited suffering -- fear of kidnapping, killing. When you go to work it's like going to fight in a war. I didn't get a mobile because I was afraid of receiving threats by mobile. On my son's birthday, I went to get a cake, I was surrounded by four people with masks, threatening me with a gun. They were from the Islamic parties. They told me that they are investigating me, my work with the Americans. They told me to pay $50,000 or be killed; my cousins paid $15,000. After they released me, I decided to leave Iraq; next time they might kill me. They also told me to leave the house because it wasn't mine.
"First we came to Syria, then Armenia. There is a foundation that helps you settle in Armenia, but you have no rights there, they just give you temporary residence. Armenia is very poor. My salary was $250, working eight a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. It was better than Iraq, at least we could sleep well.
"They put my daughter and son in classes two years below their age. I asked why; they said Maths is in English, they have to learn it from scratch. Then the support from the foundation ended, my wage was too little, so I came back to Syria.
"The kids are confused. They were studying in Russian in Armenia, here in Arabic, possibly another language if resettled. They lost three years of studies. They will suffer in the future."

The report notes that Iraqi's minority communities account for a large number of the external refugees and that this is due to "specific forms of persecution suffered by these communities". A table offers a look at some destinations for Iraqi refugees. We'll note the top five neighboring countries and then compare it to the US.

Syria has 1.1 million refugees with 174,000 being Christians, 8,400 Yazidis, 9,500 to 11,000 Sabian Mandaeans and 742 Palestinians. Jordan is second ranked with 450,000 Iraqi refugees of which 56,000 are Christians, 900 are Yazidis, 3,100 are Sabian Mandaeans and 386 are Palestinians. Coming in third is Lebanon with 50,000 refugees -- at least 17,000 are Christians (only group ranked). Fourth is Turkey which houses 8,000 refugees and breaks down three groups: 5,000 Christians, 100 Yazidis and 100 Sabian Mandaeans. Fifth place is Egypt with 30,000 (600 of which are Christians).

Of the ten countries listed, the two who have accepted the least number of Iraqi refugees are the US and Canada. Australia beats the two indidivually and Australia beats the US and Canada if you combine the two. Sweden and Germany also have accepted more Iraqi refugees. And all the five neighboring countries in the previous paragraph have accepted more (than the US and Canada). [For any wondering, about the numbers for Western countries, the endnote for the table reads: "Figues of total Iraqi refugees in Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweded and US from UNHCR, Statistical Online Population Database, accessed 18 August 2009.]

Chris Hill appears to think Iraq's external refugees just decided, "Hon, let's summer in Syria!" A Sabian Manadaen couple in Amman, Jordan share their story.

[Husband] "An American patrol came into my jewellery store for 10 minutes, and then said they would come back. After they left, three of the Mahdi Army came and called me a dirty Mandaean. They asked, 'Why did you let the Americans come into your shop -- why are you dealing with them? You must be a spy'."
[Wife] "Afterwards, they sent a threat, then they broke into the house. They held my daughter with a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if I didn't tell them where my husband was. I didn't know what to do. They tore at my clothes, they were going to rape me. I said I was pregnant. They kicked me and said, 'This is what you deserve, you filthy Mandaean.' I bled, I fainted. I miscarried after the trauma. It is hard for me to talk about this.
"We have lost hope here, but at least we are secure. When I hear loud voices I feel traumatized and scared. I wake in the night and I am afraid, even when someone just slams the door. This is reflecting on my daughter. I don't let her go out. She is always asking me, 'Why don't you let me go and play?' I embrace them even when I am sleeping."
[Husband] "I pressurize my wife because I am so tired. When I go out she gets angry and I get upset. We have thought of separating because of the pressure we have been through. I am supposed to support her, look after her and the kids and prepare for her delivery. I see myself unable to do anything. Everyone has left. Why not us? We are stuck here."

The report concludes:

In the long term, the objective must be to maintain that diversity by ensuring that minorities, who said that they would not go back 'even if they beg' or 'even if I were President,' can learn to see the country as their home again. The Iraqi government must do more than make rhetorical gestures about safeguarding minorities in order to recreate a sense of belonging. It must pass laws guaranteeing minority rights, building on Article 125 of the Constitution, and set up mechanisms for minorities to participate effectively in decisions that affect them.
Security must be provided, by involving minorities themselves in policing, and by strengthening discipline and accountability.
As UNHCR notes, that stage has not been reached, and it is not an option to return Iraqi refugees, minorities or not. The international community must therefore provide genuine access to protection. Asylum procedures must be fair and asylum adjudicators must recognize the continued instability and uncertainty facing minorities in Iraq. The international community must therefore ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected. Resettlement must remain available for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the region, including minorities. Additionally,the world community must give more support to the already overburdened countries in Iraq's neighbourhood that are home to the vast majority of the displaced.

The report's release comes as Xinhua reports Asghar Abdulrazaq al-Moussawi, Deputy Minister of Immigration, states that "30,000 families have been displaced from northern Iraq's Nineveh province since the U.S.-led war in 2003". And for the tiny number of Iraqi refugees who are granted asylum in the US? Hannah Allam's "Web forums help Iraqi refugees adapt to America" (McClatchy Newspapers) explains:

One of the best-known Iraqi forums is, which draws about 30,000 visitors a day, or nearly a million a month. Ankawa, named after a small town in northern Iraq, began 10 years ago as an online meeting place for Iraq's Christian minority, said the site's Sweden-based manager, Amir al Malih.
Malih, responding by e-mail to questions from McClatchy, said the site's popularity had soared with the exodus of Iraqis displaced by the U.S.-led war and sectarian violence. In the early days, Malih said, a volunteer legal adviser monitored refugee-related forums to ensure accuracy. Now, he said, so many resettled Iraqis of all backgrounds visit the site that the community is self-policing.
"They have enough information and experience to denounce any false or incorrect information," Malih said.
In this dismal employment market, displaced Iraqis can't offer one another much but encouragement and prayers, small consolations for a remarkably educated refugee population that has trouble finding even fast-food work these days. Instead, Ankawa users do their best to smooth other parts of the transition, helping to decipher the mysteries of American life.

Meanwhile UPI notes that Iraq's water crisis not only continues but worsens and beyond the issues of the Tigris and Euphrates' natural flow being circumvented by dams to supply more water to Turkey, a new problem has emerged: "encroaching tidal waters from the Gulf that are poisoning vital farmland, the result of climate change." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) focuses on the drought which is destroying farms as well as the fish, " Vast lakes have shriveled. River beds have run dry. The animals are sick, the birds have flown elsewhere and an ancient way of life is facing a new threat to its existence. The fabled marshes of southern Iraq are dying again -- only this time the forces of nature, not the hand of man, are to blame."

Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, is insisting the Arab League better stay away from his dispute with the Syrian government and leave it to the United Nations. Nouri obviously he thinks he'll be more successful at bullying. August 18th, he insisted Syria turn over nearly 200 Ba'athists. They said no. August 19th, Baghdad saw multiple bombings and Nouri's attempted to use that to force Syria into turning over those Ba'athists. He has no proof -- even Turkey's skeptical -- but he has a role model: George W. Bush.

For those who missed it, Nouri and members of his cabinet even referred to August 19th as Iraq's 9-11. And, like Bully Boy Bush, Nouri thinks he can use '9-11' to push through his demands that had previously been shot down. Gulf News adds that Nouri's saying he's "nearly lost hope" which probably really means he's got a bullhorn and is headed to the Foreign Ministry.

This is the opening to "'We Made them Millions, and they Complain About Insurance,' Lupe Chavez, a housekeeper at the San Francisco Hilton, tells her story to David Bacon" (ColorsNW):

I was born in Santa Tecla, near San Salvador. My father was a big rig driver and my mother was a stay at home mom. We had a big family -- four brothers and two sisters. When I was old enough, I worked in the Armando Araujo coffee and soap factory. We Salvadorenos are hard working people.
From the time I was twelve my aunts took me with them whenever they had a demonstration. They were teachers, and taught me that we have to fight for what we need, because that's the only way to achieve anything. Even before the war, it was dangerous to be involved with a union. After the war started, many died protesting.
I was nineteen years old when I came to the U.S. to care for an elderly woman. My family was very poor and when the opportunity came I didn't hesitate. The woman eventually returned to El Salvador, but I stayed on with her family. I thought I was going to earn money and help my family, but they didn't pay me for an entire year. They told me I had to repay the transportation fee and all the money they'd spent on me.
A friend of my grandmother told me I was being treated as a slave. She said she'd rescue me, so I found my passport where they'd hidden it, grabbed my bag and left. But my rescuer took me to another home, to care of another elderly woman. They hardly paid me anything -- just $100 a month. When I said I wanted to go to school, they told me immigration officers would get me.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).

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