Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Mess'O'potamia: Bush's Folly Creates the Largest Flow of New Refugees in the World.
June 14th, 2006 2:05 pm
For Iraqis, Exodus to Syria and Jordan Continues
By Sabrina Tavernise / New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 13 — In one of the first comprehensive tallies of Iraqis fleeing Iraq since the American-led invasion, an American refugee advocacy group has counted 644,500 Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan in 2005.
The figure, provided by the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nongovernmental group based in Washington, is equal to about 2.5 percent of Iraq's population, and substantiates the overwhelming evidence of an exodus that has been accumulating in Iraqi passport offices and airline waiting rooms in recent months.
It was part of a survey of refugees around the world that was conducted by the committee and was scheduled for release on Wednesday. The number includes Iraqis who have been in Syria and Jordan since the invasion in 2003 but had not previously been counted as refugees, and those who arrived over the course of 2005.
The committee has counted Iraqi refugees in the past, but the most recent figure is by far the largest to date — more than triple the 213,000 recorded in 2004 — and the first big surge since the American invasion. At first, Iraqis living abroad began returning home. But as the war became increasingly deadly, more Iraqis chose to leave.
In all, as of the end of 2005, 889,000 Iraqis have moved abroad as refugees since 2003, according to the group's tally, more than double the 366,000 counted at the end of 2004.
"It's the biggest new flow of refugees in the world," said Lavinia Limón, the committee's president.
The survey bases its count on figures from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other sources, including local nongovernmental organizations and embassies. For that reason, the group considers its count more detailed than that of the United Nations, which offered a rough tally of 2.7 million Iraqis, including 1 million who fled under Saddam Hussein and another 1.2 million who left their homes but remained in Iraq.
In Baghdad, evidence of the departures abounds. Faris al-Douri, a travel agency director, said on Tuesday that airline tickets are booked weeks in advance, and that airlines have added flights to Jordan and Syria. Passport offices are packed.
"As if we were giving out cars, not passports," said Maj. Gen. Yassen al-Yassiry, director of passports for the Iraqi government.
The government issued two million passports from July 2004 to the end of 2005, he said. Some of those were for Iraqis taking holidays, but many were for migration. The government does not track the numbers of citizens leaving for abroad.
The roads to Syria and Jordan, the two most common destinations for Iraqis fleeing the war, are fraught with dangers. Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab headed to Syria, watched dolefully as thieves plucked $11,000 from a hiding place in his car. Assad Bahjat, a Christian, also reported being held up on the road to Syria, after waiting for a gun battle to cease near the volatile city of Ramadi.
"Wherever we are, we thank God for every day," Mr. Bahjat said in an e-mail message after reaching the heavily Christian town of Sednaia, "because we are alive and not dead."
Sahar Nageeb contributed reporting for this article.