Friday, May 17, 2013

Institute for Iraqi Studies issues its report on the Syrian refugee crisis and some lessons from Iraq

Download the report at the IIS website.  Kindle and ibook versions will be out shortly.

[Added: Now available for your Kindle.]

From the foreword:

Credible estimates reveal that one of every six Syrians has fled their home, or what remains of their home, often with little more than what they might carry in their arms or wear on their back. Millions have sought safety in other towns and villages, and many have been forced to flee several times to escape the crossfire of rival opposition fighters and government forces. About one and half million Syrians now find a measure of safety in neighboring countries: some in the relative order of well-run camps, but many others are not nearly so fortunate.  Even after escaping from predatory militias and vengeful military assaults, victims continue to be prey for criminals, sexual predators, sectarian vigilantes or allies of the Syrian government.

A number of governments that have pledged contributions have failed to deliver fully on their promises, and neighboring countries, not least Jordan and Lebanon, are strapped for adequate resources and justifiably fear that violence inside Syria will spread to their own citizens. The Syrian refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis on the scale of some of the world’s worst natural disasters of recent years, and this man-made disaster threatens structural political damage far from its epicenter.

Borders may appear as definitive lines on a map, but family ties, tribal links, sectarian affinities and trading ties routinely transcend Syria’s borders.   Along the Syria-Lebanon border, for instance, one finds Lebanese villages within Syrian territory, and the Iraq-Syria border is notoriously porous.  In my own travels decades ago I well recall visiting Turkish border towns, such as Kilis, which survived as entrepots for trade with Syria and Iraq.

In March, the Institute for Iraqi Studies hosted a workshop in order to gain a shared understanding of the disaster, as well as bring insights to bear from Iraq’s recent refugee tragedy, which at its height directly affected one of every six Iraqis (the same ratio as Syria today). Nearly three million Iraqis remain displaced or as refugees, more than two decades after the uprising of 1991 and a decade following the U.S.-U.K. invasion, according to 2012 data cited in this report (p. 22).  The Iraqi case is a reminder that what is happening today to Syrians is likely to have longstanding consequences.  In neighboring Lebanon, savage violence during the 1975-90 civil war precipitated population displacements that radically diminished the richly diverse human tapestry of the country.  Many villages and urban quarters formerly known for inter-sectarian cohabitation remain far less diverse than they were before the civil war.

A follow-up workshop is planned for late September at Boston University.  The program and other details will be posted on the website in late August.


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