Monday, July 02, 2007

The Double Refugees: Palestinians Fleeing Iraq

Iraqi Palestinians are a people twice removed - double refugees. Expelled from the new state of Israel in 1948, about 90,000 Palestinians came to Iraq because, despite the cruelties of the Hussein regime, it was better than some of their other alternatives. In fact, Palestinians are viewed as sort of poor-relations throughout the Middle East, and frequently face discrimination and mistreatment. At least under Saddam, they received housing subsidies to compensate for not having the right to own land.

According to Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the pro-Palestinian
International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Palestinians in Iraq were the first targets after the U.S. invasion in 2003. They were kicked out of their homes, and many fled before the borders became secure. But without citizenship or proper identification, thousands of Iraqi Palestinians remain stranded in "no man's land" camps on the Syrian and Jordanian borders -- unable to return to Iraq out of fear for their lives, and unable to enter neighboring countries due to internal Arab and Israeli politics (Arab states fear Palestinians will become permanent squatters, and Israel has nixed any prospect for resettlement in Gaza).

About a thousand are trapped in a Baghdad camp, where they live in increasing squalor with limited water, sanitation and electricity. "The [Palestinian Iraqi] refugees express sentiments that they are treated as if they don't matter, as if there are too many of them, and no one cares about them," Shapiro stated at the Iraqi Refugee Roundtable Strategy Session last May. "[They] face killings, lootings, torture and imprisonment."

Conditions in the Palestinian Iraqi refugee camps on the Syrian and Jordanian borders are particularly dire. "No man, woman or child should be living in that environment," said Sybella Wilkes, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Damascus, one of the few organizations able to gain access to the camps. Wilkes reports deaths, miscarriages, suicide attempts, fires, floods, dust storms and unbearable heat amongst contributing factors to the anguish of the camps' residents.

"These refugees are in danger of being completely eliminated," Shapiro stated. He advocates increasing the numbers of Palestinian Iraqi refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S., and helping other countries, such as Chile, with the funding and logistics of resettlement.

But the Palestinian Iraqi refugees must have a more immediate humanitarian solution if they are to survive. The U.S. and other nations -- including the Arab states claiming outrage against Israel at the plight of Palestinians -- must step up and provide shelter, food, clothing and especially medical care for these people. Before it's too late.

21 comments:

rwst346 said...

Very well written! They truly do need help and you are right in admonishing the wealthy Arab states for not helping. That is the true disgrace of the Islamic world.

Anonymous said...

Please enough of the misery in gut wrenching pictures of the last two postings. The glass is sometimes half full!

Emily Stivers said...

Thanks, rwst346.

Anonymous - we'll have some more hopeful stuff for you soon, but in the meantime it's important to be realistic about just how desperate the refugee situation is. We can't come up with or advocate solutions without acknowledging the nature and depth of the problem.

As for the picture, well I can't defend the one from "The Deer Hunter," but the one I chose actually wasn't as bad as some I saw when googling "Palestinian Iraqi refugees." It's actually much worse than my picture indicates.

Anonymous said...

Does Epic have or support any programs that bring aid to the people on the ground, Palestinian or Iraqi? It takes time to change policy and get legislation passed. I haven't heard of anything going on over there at epic to actually get some money for these people who are suffering now. Does epic ever reach out to members to raise funds specifically for these causes, or does it all go toward advocacy and keeping the organization functioning?

Emily Stivers said...

While we don't often directly fund-raise for organizations such as UNHCR or others who provide relief to refugees, we play an important role in advocating their work and making sure Americans and government officials know about it.

There is a HUGE deficit between the realities in/around Iraq and what the common American thinks is going on, and that affects U.S. policy. While "quick fix" humanitarian assistance is crucial, we also must have a comprehensive plan for peace or the situation will only get worse.

In short, our role is to draw attention to what's needed in the short term, and to discover and promote solutions for the longterm. I think it's a VERY important role, and one that nobody else is performing.

Anonymous 4 said...

I don't think you can be so quick to say that nobody else is promoting long-term solutions. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do fantastic jobs of trying to promote long-term solutions. I think it is important to try and change the way Americans think about the situation in Iraq, and hopefully that will affect change somehow. But I also believe that sending money to people who are in need NOW is extremely important. You said it youself, that it is important to be realistic about just how desperate the refugee situation is. Changing American political culture and foreign policy is a very complicated obstacle to tackle and could take years. What happens to the refugees who need clean water and supplies in the mean time?

Anonymous said...

Is engaging the political machine the only way EPIC attempts to help the Iraq people? IF so, that is a really roundabout way of helping an escalating humanitarian crisis. You must be doing something else? Are you on the ground?

reader said...

I think it's a lot that there's an organization like Epic that is at least trying to get the message of the plight of the Iraqis to the people. Who else speaks for them? After all, you have to take it a step at a time and knowledge is one of the first steps.

Emily Stivers said...

Our mission is accomplished in two ways: through educating the American public – including citizens, elected officials and the media - about what’s really going on in Iraq, and challenging those same people to do something about it. We advance responsible changes in U.S.-Iraq policy to improve the lives of all Iraqis.

We do not hand out aid or do direct work on the ground in Iraq – we leave that to other organizations already carrying out that work. But we work closely with those orgs (through our coalition work, ongoing campaigns, and behind-the-scenes in other ways), and have extensive contacts on-the-ground (including Iraqis, aid workers, veterans, and others) who we work with to get a fuller picture of what life is really like, the conditions Iraqis are facing, and what needs to be done to turn things around in a responsible and timely manner.

Our niche is making a difference here in Washington, and we have been effective in that mission for almost 10 years.

reader said...

Somewhat effective anyway. I only just found you guys recently. Have you really been around for 10 years?

Anonymous said...

I don't know how anyone can not be concerned with the issues that have been plaging Iraq for decades, but unfortunately this is a problem we have here in America. I just don't understand how Epic can affect political change on such a massive level as to shape policy. Like reader said, epic has been around for 10 years and it seems to me that the causes continue to change, which they should, but the means of helping Iraqis on the ground is becoming more and more ambiguous. Do you all have media contacts at least? I didn't see any coverage at all about the 2,000 plus letters that were dropped off to Congress. I think the ideology is great, but the reality of changing the way Americans think and the way the government makes foreign policy is a very big job. After 10 years I would think that epic would have set up some projects on the ground to bring aid to the people, or at least reached out to its members to raise funds to send over there to local NGOs on the ground that are doing good work. Back to my main point, I think the idea is great but I don't know how this amount of change will be able to come about without some kind of media coverage or something, that will somehow change the way politicaians are thinking. Again, in the mean time why don't groups like epic rally their supporters to raise money for a concrete viable solution now to bring about relief to those on the ground?

Emily Stivers said...

We have been around for 10 years, but our mission has changed a bit in that time. EPIC was founded after the first Gulf War by veterans who had gotten to know the Iraqi people and wanted to help. During the sanctions period, EPIC did a lot of work on that issue. Since the invasion in 2003, we've been focused on peacebuilding. But throughout, the core of our mission has been to connect Americans to the Iraqi people.

Anonymous - I'm sorry you're not happy with the work we're doing. But as Reader pointed out, we are working hard to communicate the needs of Iraqis to the American people, and we believe in what we're doing.

Can we, on our own, affect massive political change? Maybe not. But somebody has to be working for that change or it will never happen at all, and that's why we've united with dozens of other organizations to form the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG).

Even without press coverage, our Hill Drop has had an impact: 13 new cosponsors to the "Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees Act" (HR 2265) since World Refugee Day on June 20th, and many Congressional staffers have called us with questions and interest.

Publicity is tricky. Erik has written several blogs chronicling the media's inadequacy regarding Iraq; they just don't seem interested in the reality, only in the body count. It is extremely difficult to get their attention.

So we're creating our own publicity, and working on increasing our scope. We're getting more and more hits on our website and blog, and posting the link everywhere we can. Action-taking is way up.

You're right, it is a big job and we're a small organization. But we're sending ripples, and our work is important. We don't need to fundraise for other organizations because most have their own mechanisms for that, but we do our part in drawing attention to what works.

Anonymous said...

Most local Iraqi NGOs don't have their own mechanisms for fundraising. Epic's interviews with Lisa Schirch and Khaldoun Ali are good examples of that. Merci Hands main donors are "IOM and UNHCR but their funds are limited." I just thought with the support Epic has from its members some additional backing would go directly to programs like Khaldoun's. I support epic's mission and that is why I'm a member. Thanks.

SuezzyQ said...

Is there an Iraq (staff member)working with EPIC in the US or on the Ground? If so, it would be great if they would speak up more. It adds to your credibility! If not well...

Emily Stivers said...

Additionally, while we don't collect donations for the orgs on the ground in Iraq, we do quite frequently indicate how our readers can support them. In our latest Ground Truth Interview with Kirk Johnson, for example, we link to his organization that is creating a movement for resettling certain Iraqi refugees who have helped the U.S.

That's actually what the Ground Truth Project is all about - connecting Americans with with folks doing good work on the ground, and showing how to support them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. Its a little confusing just WHAT epic is doing sometimes. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I was just reading all of these comments and thought I would chime in. It seems like readers are calling for action. I have to add my thoughts. "drawling attention to what works". What is this a PR firm? Action Action Action!

jt said...

You all are really tough on this organization! How about passing on this link to anybody who might be interested in what's going on? In the end, the more people that can get involved, the better!

Anonymous said...

Lets not understate the importance of what EPIC does. Taking 'action' on the ground to help with refugees and a host of other problems in Iraq needs to be done and done urgently, that is certainly true.

But the very important 'action' will often be misguided, ineffective, and under-appreciated if no one takes the time to promote a public understanding of the facts and the problems. Ultimately, the lack of public knowledge of the facts is how we were lead (or mislead) into this war.

This kind of information is so well hidden from the general American public that I feel it is vital to understanding the problem. Our function of democracy as a whole is served by groups like EPIC who bring these issues to the people. The fact that there is an open forum for people to get feedback and voice their concerns is inspiring.

As for sweeping political changes, it is an extremely lofty goal, granted. But from my personal experience working in Congress, I know that this is how it is done, this is how your voices are heard and this is what demonstrates to a public official that we are not a bunch of sheep who are easily manipulated by flashy ads and alarming news stories, but instead thinking and reasoning voters, who will use our votes to hold representatives accountable. Every kind of sweeping political change you should make begins with small groups of determined people and relies on creating public awareness of the truth.

I find the level of political inefficacy of Americans to be highly disturbing. It is one of the greatest fundamentals of a democracy that for citizens voicing the truth, it is not only possible to create sweeping political changes, it is our responsibility.

Emily Stivers said...

Thanks for the support!

:)

name said...

Thanks to author.

 
Clicky Web Analytics