How many Iraqis in Egypt?

November 18, 2008

This is kind of interesting.  A study by the folks at the American University of Cairo has found that there might actually be as few as 15,000 to 20,000 Iraqis living in Egypt.  Some estimates have been as high as 120,000.  Given the situation, where Iraqis are pretty much on their own and living mixed into the rest of society, it’s not surprising that no one really has a clue how many there are.

One thing to remember when looking at numbers of refugees is that almost everyone has a reason to make their estimates a big as possible.  Aid agencies and UNHCR want to make sure as much aid flows to the crisis as possible.  The host government usually wants to see the aid flow too, and if they are trying to shame the neighbor that caused the refugees to flee the more refugees the better.  And honestly, who can blame them? There’s never enough money to go around.

However many there are, life is not easy for Iraqis living in Egypt.  See www.iraqisinegypt.org for more.

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Donors and hosts

November 15, 2008

By the way, as I alluded to in the post below on Zambia, I don’t want to lay all the blame at the feet of the governments that are hosting refugees.  They tend to get a lot of attention because that’s where the bad stuff happens, but the systematic violations of refugees’ rights are as much a function of the international aid system as they are of the hosts.

Most of the world’s host countries are too poor to handle the massive emergencies they’re saddled with thanks to their neighbors, and wealthier countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and the members of the EU ought to assist them.  But they ought to be looking at ways to assist them that don’t violate the rights of refugees.


Elsewhere in Africa

November 15, 2008

Somalis in Kenya are, of course, not the only refugees in trouble these days.  In Zambia, there is also a crisis brewing, as the World Food Programme has announced it doesn’t have the resources to feed the refugees there past the end of 2008.  As it is, the refugees were on half rations for October and will be on quarter rations for November and December.


Susan Sikaneta, permanent secretary in the ministry of interior, said this week: “The security situation may become volatile, as refugees may resort to rioting and leave the camps to search for food in the host community villages, and there will also be an increased potential for sexual and gender-based violence and events related to sexual exploitation.” …

“[They] have no alternative means of supporting themselves,” said Sikaneta, “failure to fund these vulnerable refugees may lead to increased malnutrition and even death.”

Some of the refugees who are receiving the food aid at the moment are people who wouldn’t be able to support themselves — the handicapped, single mothers, unaccompanied children.  But others would certainly be able to support themselves and their families, givent the chance.  Ms. Sikaneta is concerned that they “have no alternative means of supporting themselves,” but it is her own government, along with the policies of the funders of the refugee system (the United States, EU, Japan, Australia, Canada, etc.) who are holding them back.


Speaking of crowded camps…

November 14, 2008

In the best of times, refugee camps are not pleasant places.  For the three camps at Dadaab, Kenya, these are not the best of times.

[The] UN refugee agency, the World Food Programme and Unicef Kenya said in a press release that more than 6,000 new asylum-seekers arrived in the three camps at Dadaab in October 2008 alone. This has seen the population rise to 224,000 compared to 171,000 at the start of the year.

“As has been experienced in refugee camps the world over, congestion creates an unsafe environment for women and children,” said Unicef Kenya representative, Olivia Yambi.

The UNHCR said it had asked the Government to allocate extra land where a new camp can be built.

“We may soon face a humanitarian crisis if we continue depending on the three existing camps to accommodate the new arrivals,” said UNHCR representative, Liz Ahua.

The solution is always more camps — life in the camps is miserable, so build more camps.  For more than 15 years, Kenya has been keeping Somali refugees bottled up in the camps.  Instead of more of the same, it would be nice to hear them advocate publicly for more freedom for the refugees.  Maybe they are doing it in private, and I hope so, but there’s no sign of that.


On camps

November 14, 2008

Most likely, when you think of refugees, you think of refugee camps.  That’s the image that most people have in their head — row after row of tents flapping in the wind, starving people sitting around waiting for the emergency food relief to arrive.  The camps might even seem like havens, the promised land that refugees reach after trekking for days over deserts, fleeing war or persecution.  And often they are, saving thousands of lives when there is a major crisis driving refugees out of their homelands.  Often, at this stage there is international press attention, beaming images of the grateful refugees arriving and receiving their first food in weeks.  Then the cameras leave, but the refugees remain.

And remain. And remain.  All too often, they’re still there 10 years later.  In many cases, they’re stuck in exile far longer than that.  There have been Burmese refugees in camps in Thailand for 20 years.  Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees have been living in camps in Sudan for more than 40 years.  Children have been born in those camps, grown up in them, and had children of their own.

Think about it for a minute, spending your entire life trapped in a camp.  And they are trapped.  Countries like Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, and others have forbidden refugees to leave their camps.  Instead, the remain stranded in some of the most barren parts of the country, unable to work, unable to leave, their lives on hold while they wait for a chance to return to their homes safely. As you might suspect, being confined, essentially imprisoned, for years at a time leads to a whole host of social problems.  Domestic abuse is common.  So are drug and alcohol problems.  The NGO World Vision did study of children in refugee camps (pdf) in the Great Lakes region of Africa that found rates of sexual abuse of children between 50% and 87% in the camps they surveyed.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When the world convened to decide how refugees ought to be treated in the wake of World War II, they crafted a treaty that guarantees refugees a whole host of rights that ought to allow them to live normal lives.  And why not?  Refugees have been driven from their homes through no fault of their own.  It seems to make sense that they not be punished again once they flee to safety.  When the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was written, people assumed refugees would be living where they chose in their hosting countries, working whatever jobs they could find, and supporting themselves, perhaps with the assistance of their hosts, but surely not dependent entirely on international aid to survive.

Anyway, that’s the basic outline of where I’m coming from on refugees and refugee rights.  I’ll be fleshing out many of these points as I go (or at least, I hope to).


Welcome…

November 13, 2008

This blog is dedicated to refugees.  I hope to use it to highlight the myriad violations of their rights, to show the contributions they make to countries all over the world, and remind people that refugees will always be with us.

I’m not a refugee myself, but I work in the refugee industry alongside and, hopefully, on behalf of refugees.