I wrote last month that some are warning the Iraqi refugee crisis could be the globe’s most dire yet. The sheer number of Iraqis displaced by the war in the last 3 years — 3.1 million — are enough to make groups like Refugees International and Human Rights Watch take notice and demand UN and U.S. action. 1.8 million have fled their country and the remaining are displaced within Iraq’s borders.
But although the crisis demands attention, the complexity of it begs the question as to whether it will only get worse. Saddam’s recent execution, the handling cheered by some and reviled by others, was protested in Jordan, one of the only two countries which accepted Iraq’s citizens following the U.S.-led invasion. Some think the execution was a sectarian lynching, an aggression carried out by fundamentalist Shi’ites of the Mehdi Army. Jordan already essentially closed its borders in 2005 after the hotel bombing in Amman and the treatment of refugees in this country has been on a steady decline. Iraqi refugees are now treated as temporary visitors, but attaining a visa is almost impossible, so many are deported. Others remain living in hiding within the country and some face refusal at the border.
Will the backlash from Saddam’s execution make matters even worse, especially for Shi’ite refugees? Shi’ites already face the most difficult time in both Jordan and Syria (the only Middle Eastern country that still accepts refugees). What if Shi’ite refugees, those already inside Jordan and those who are fleeing due to the ever-increasing violence, are greeted with even more discrimination?
Their options are limited and waning further. The Bush administration has shown no sign that it will increase the number of Iraqi refugees allowed entry into the U.S. from the current number of 500 to the allowed 20,000 (which wouldn’t come close to the tens of thousands of refugees who have shown interest in migrating to the U.S.). And even if the administration loosens its restrictions, who will be granted the privilege — Shi’ites? Very doubtful.