I am saddened and worried to hear Riverbend is leaving Iraq. Everybody should know about her blog and be reading it at this point. Read her latest post about the walls being built by the Americans and Iraqi government around Sunni areas of Baghdad. I agree with her that this is a ridiculous idea (see also: Palestine and Mexico); better fences do not make better neighbors is the very least of this issue. She also reveals that her family has finally come to the awful realization that they must leave and what she writes is heart breaking. What would you take of your life if you didn't know if you would ever be back? I wish she and her family safe journeys and luck at the border; luck being all that most Iraqis have to depend on these days. Jordan and Syria are the only countries they can enter without a visa and are thus being overwhelmed.
According to the UNHCR, an estimated 2 million Iraq's have been displaced inside Iraq and another 2 million have fled to other countries with the Syrian government estimating that 1.4 million have entered Syria. Read this article about the efforts of the UNHCR and the Syrian government overall and yesterdays signing of an agreement for the UNHCR to provide the Syrian Ministry of Health $2 million for improvement of hospitals, staff increases, and provisioning.
The US response was to FINALLY increase the number of visas available, but as Riverbend points out one is lucky to survive the necessary trips to the so-called "safe" Green Zone to go through the formalities and paperwork. And you had better have the right kind of passport. And you had better keep your mouth shut about unpleasant things like body counts.
And you had better not be a Palestinian refugee from Iraq. The Syrian government decided the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already living there is enough for them and are refusing Palestinians entry from Iraq thereby leaving these people in limbo at the border. This is only the latest problem for this segment of the Iraqi population; for being treated well by the Hussein regime, who saw them as a way to score political points in the region, they now face reprisals ranging from the loss of homes to murder.
When I arrived in Damascus in January 2006 there was a lot of talk of the refugees. People complained about rising prices. My neighborhood was said to be full of Iraqis, but somehow I only met Syrians. When I returned in December of 2006 the effects were far more apparent; I was shown a tiny one bedroom walk-up flat that the owner wanted to rent for about five times what I'd paid for spacious apartment with a glorious view just a few months prior. The streets seemed to burst with more people than I remembered; the faces and mood had changed.