International Herald Tribune Editorial - Iraq's desperate exodus
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: April 22, 2007
Four years of war have exacted a terrible toll on Iraqis, with no end in sight. Car bombings and other violence now kill an average of 100 people a day. Two out of three Iraqis have no regular access to clean water. Children are malnourished and too many are dying from preventable diseases and the near collapse of the health care system.
And an incredible total of four million people - one out of every seven Iraqis - have been forced to flee their homes. If Iraq continues this descent, the refugee tide could turn into a regional tsunami, with potentially convulsive political consequences.
Yet, as with so much about this war, the Bush administration is refusing to acknowledge the human cost of its horrendous errors and pretending that the problem will be contained within Iraq's borders. It will not.
Half of Iraq's displaced people have already fled. Jordan, a country of six million people, is now sheltering 750,000 Iraqis. Syria, with a population of 19 million, has about 1.2 million Iraqi refugees. Their governments say they are unable to keep coping with such large inflows. Jordan has already moved to limit new arrivals - barring Iraqi men between the ages of 17 and 35.
Others have been less welcoming. Kuwait has completely shut its doors. Saudi Arabia is building a $7 billion border fence to keep Iraqis out.
And then there is the United States. Washington has taken in only some 500 Iraqi refugees since the war began. The Bush administration promises to do much better this year, and officials are floating hypothetical numbers as high as 25,000. That would help. But the bumbling track record of this administration's refugee bureaucracy makes it seem unlikely. And under current policy, some of Iraq's most desperate refugees could be deemed ineligible under provisions of the Patriot and Real ID Acts that treat ransom paid to free relatives from kidnappers as "material support" for terrorism.
The administration needs to be doing a lot more. It needs to ensure that the most threatened refugees - usually those who have worked with American forces - can find safe haven here. It should provide generous assistance, well beyond the $18 million it has now pledged, to the United Nations refugee agency, to help poor countries like Jordan and Syria cope with the large numbers already there. Washington also needs to begin serious and detailed discussions with all of Iraq's neighbors - including Syria and Iran - on how to lessen the violence inside Iraq and help those who try to escape it.