Syria has so far accepted (at least) 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. Beginning today, that country is placing limits on the number and type of future refugees it will accept. As CBS News reports:
With the massive influx of refugees, Syria is starting to feel the strain.
“There’s a huge impact for a country of 20 million people to receive a million and half within a few months. There is a huge burden on our services: medical, school, infrastructure — everything,” says Minister of Expatriates Buthania Shaaban.
As a result of the increasing stress from the refugee crisis, the Syrian government recently announced a new visa policy which, as of Sept. 10, will only allow professionals to enter the country — effectively shutting out thousands of people.
This isn’t surprising, but it’s not good news for the more than 2 million Iraqis who have fled their country or for the 2.2 million more who are “displaced internally” and may soon join those fleeing the country in search of safety. (Figures from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.)
Those figures are not disputed, they’re simply ignored by the current American debate over whether or not the so-called “surge” is “working” (whatever that means). The fact that one out of every six Iraqis has fled their home seems like it ought to be relevant to any discussion of the “security situation” in that country, but it has apparently been decided that the opinions of these 4.2 million Iraqis — voting with their feet and their whole lives — should not be given quite as much weight in this discussion as the opinion of the very serious Michael O’Hanlon or the other York Hardings who, after all, have visited Iraq several times.
Let’s revisit the speech President Bush gave last month at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. The absurdities of that speech were so glaring that it was easy to overlook its obscenities, but those obscenities also deserve our attention. Arguing that America should not have withdrawn from Vietnam and likewise/therefore must never withdraw from Iraq, President Bush cited the refugee crisis that followed the fall of South Vietnam:
Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. … One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people.”
More than a million refugees fled Vietnam after the end of that war, with some 823,000 of them finding refuge and resettling here, in America over the following two decades. An American withdrawal from Iraq, President Bush suggested, would result in a similar refugee crisis.
As with all of the dire predictions Bush makes about what might happen following an American withdrawal, the president fails to notice that: A) the thing he is “warning” could happen someday is already happening, now, due in part to the American presence in Iraq; and B) it is far worse and far more serious than the hypothetical nightmare he “warns” might occur.
Just consider the numbers. There are already nearly twice as many Iraqi refugees as there were refugees fleeing Southeast Asia after 1975. Syria has already taken in nearly twice as many Iraqi refugees as America took in from Vietnam over the course of 20 years. And how is the Bush administration responding to this non-hypothetical refugee crisis?
The Bush administration’s plan is to admit 10,000 to 12,000 Iraqis a year, starting next year.
That’s from Bruce Finley’s Denver Post report, in which he also notes that:
Between 1992 and 2002, the U.S. accepted an average of 2,800 Iraqi refugees a year. Since then, the annual average has dropped to 191.
Let’s give the Bush administration credit for the ambitious high end of its plan: providing refuge for 12,000 fleeing Iraqis next year. That comes out to 0.006 percent of the 2 million Iraqis, so far, forced to flee the lethal chaos following the American-led invasion of their country.
So, to be fair, we shouldn’t say that Bush’s speech was obscene. It was only 99.994 percent obscene.
As I write this, Gen. David Petraeus is testifying before Congress that, “The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.” None of the 2 million Iraqis who have already fled nor any of the 50,000 additional refugees leaving that country every month has been asked to offer their testimony about all of the progress the general is describing, so let me give the last word here to one of them, the former Baghdad blogger Riverbend, who posted for the first time in months last week, reporting that she and her family have arrived safely in Syria, before that country’s new rules went into effect:
The Syrian border was almost equally packed, but the environment was more relaxed. People were getting out of their cars and stretching. Some of them recognized each other and waved or shared woeful stories or comments through the windows of the cars. Most importantly, we were all equal. Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds … we were all equal in front of the Syrian border personnel.
We were all refugees — rich or poor. And refugees all look the same — there’s a unique expression you’ll find on their faces- relief, mixed with sorrow, tinged with apprehension. The faces almost all look the same.
The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness. How is it that only a stretch of several kilometers and maybe 20 minutes, so firmly segregates life from death?
How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and … peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe — even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.
I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of road blocks, hummers and pictures of Muqtada and the rest.
How is it that all of this lies a short car ride away?