Friday, June 04, 2010

Iraq / Syria

Iraqi Refugees Haunted by Horrors They Left Behind
By Alistair Lyon
Reuters dispatch, June 4, 2010
Photo: "UN workers take down the names of Iraqi families at a refugee centre in Damascus in this July 19, 2007 file photo." (Reuters/Khaled al-Harir)
"Nahla and her pharmacist husband Malik were prospering in the Shi'ite city of Kerbala, despite the sectarian and criminal violence unleashed by the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. They even bought a new house. Then one day in 2006, Usama, the eldest of their five children, stepped out to buy a sandwich. He never came back. A kidnap gang demanded a ransom of 12 million Iraqi dinars ($10,000). Nahla and Malik sold their home and paid up, but 12-year-old Usama still didn't come back. A week later his naked, mangled body was found in the desert. Nahla, whose surname is withheld to avoid possible danger to relatives in Iraq, talked as she sat on a plastic mat over the concrete floor of a flat in the poor Damascus area of Sayyida Zeinab, where the family settled after fleeing Iraq in 2008. 'I die a hundred times a day, my husband too,' she wept. 'But we have to think of the children and their future. Our only hope is resettlement. We can't go back to Iraq.'
Nahla's family are among 165,000 Iraqi refugees currently registered by the United Nations refugee agency in Syria, which also hosts hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis in exile. At the height of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07, UN agencies estimated that two million Iraqis had fled abroad and more than two million had moved to other parts of the country. The plight of uprooted Iraqis like Nahla's family no longer makes headlines, but no end to the refugee crisis is in sight. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says only 100,000 refugees are among the 500,000 Iraqis who have returned to their homes. Iraq still has 1.5 million internally displaced people, a third of them living in squalid settlements or camps. [...]"

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