The Guardian reports today that Iraq could be become the biggest refugee crisis the world has witnessed, overtaking even that of Darfur. The warnings about this impending situation come from a report released on Tuesday by Refugees International documenting that as of November 2006, 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country and an additional 500,000 have been displaced throughout Iraq. A spokesperson for the group said, “We’re not saying it’s the largest [refugee crisis], but it’s quickly becoming the largest.”
The report highlights the fact that Jordan, one of two countries in the Middle East that opened its doors after the U.S. invasion in 2003, have since closed them (Jordan closed its border after the hotel bombings in Amman in November of last year), leaving Syria the sole destination for Iraqi refugees. The UN estimates that 2,000 enter Syria each day. A report released last month by the Human Rights Watch provides a detailed look at the situation in Jordan: “The Silent Treatment: Fleeing Iraq, Surviving in Jordan” looks indepth at the issues facing Iraqi refugees in the country as well as the difficult decisions that lie ahead for the government.
Jordan, historically sympathetic to refugees (Palestinians mostly), has had their patience tested with the current situation in Iraq. Now, Iraqis and Palestinians (entering through Iraq) are being turned away at its border and Iraqis who do sneak in lose their legal status immediately and begin accruing fines of up to $2 USD per day. If the Jordanian police apprehend them, they are sent back to Iraq. Human Rights Watch is claiming that the Jordanian government is violating a principle of international customary law, called refoulement, “the forced return of refugees.”
Human Rights Watch has been careful to express that the purpose of their report is not to chastise Jordan but on the contrary to bring to light a humanitarian crisis that can’t be ignored and requires international coordination. The group calls on Jordan to admit the refugee crisis exists and to call for assistance from the international community. Refugees International is also calling for international support, but they call on the west to lead the initiative. “The United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, but they are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus,” said the organization’s president.
I think it’s safe to say something needs to be done (and fast) if experts are calling this the next Darfur.