Nowhere To Run To...But Really This Time

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 4:50 PM EDT

Last week, Germany's Spiegel Online reported Iraqi refugees stand to have yet another door slammed in their faces. The Syrian government, which has absorbed the majority of the refugee burden since the beginning of the war -- and even more so since Jordan has closed its doors -- is bursting at the seams. Syria has taken in 1.2 million of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes in the past four years. (2 million have fled to other countries and 1.8 million have been displaced throughout Iraq.) Spiegel reminds us that for a country of 19 million (the pop. of Syria), that is quite a bit, six percent to be exact. The United States would have to take in nearly 18 million Iraqi refugees to bear a comparable burden (we have taken in less than 500 in the past four years). The article reads:

"Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices."

But regardless of this burden, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Syria, Lauren Jolles, says, the country does not complain even though the international community has "abandoned [it]." Jolles acknowledged that things have to change and that a United Nations aid conference set to happen in April in Geneva will have to yield a very "large aid package."

As I have written many times before, Iraqi refugees face very few asylum options. If Syria can no longer be a haven for the country's citizens, the outcome will be devastating. The United States needs to pick up the slack as well. As Liz wrote last week, the Bush administration "has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced, is next to nothing." As David Case writes in our current issue, on the newsstands now, "Refugees International labels this the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis." The international world seriously needs to get moving.