The California wildfires sparked an immediate response from the Federal government, and rightly so. They caused an immense loss of property, though luckily little loss of life. President Bush rushed to the West Coast to comfort the stricken and show his very real concern for their welfare. Extensive television coverage brought the tragedy home to Americans. It was in every living room.
There is another huge refugee crisis taking place at this very moment that is getting almost no attention from the American government because it is getting far less coverage by the American media. It has lasted for four years and may have displaced as many as four million people, with thousands more fleeing from their homes every day. The cause of this huge refugee crisis was not a natural disaster. It was manmade â€“ the American-led invasion of Iraq â€“ and was compounded by the Bush Administration's lack of realistic planning for the aftermath of the war. To put it bluntly, the United States created this humanitarian tragedy and has not done enough to help the victims. They are the orphans of this war.
Precise figures are hard to come by because so little attention has been paid to the Iraqi refugees. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 Iraqis are leaving their homes every month because of the sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing that have made their neighborhoods unsafe. Seventy percent of them are women and children. Up to half of these displaced persons have fled to neighboring countries, which have taken in some two million Iraqis. Most of them would like to return to their homes, but cannot because they are afraid, or because their homes no longer exist or are being inhabited by other families who have been displaced. The neighboring countries â€“ primarily Syria and Jordan â€“ have taken in most of the refugees, but their traditional Arab hospitality is being stretched to the limit.
This Iraqi man had to sell everything to pay for the release of his kidnapped daughter. After she was freed, they fled to Jordan
One of the most critical problems is that of Iraqis who have worked, as drivers or interpreters or in some other capacity, for the American and coalition forces. Their connection with the occupying forces makes them prime targets for the killers who rule the lawless streets of Iraq. They are the walking dead, and yet their American and coalition employers, or former employers, have for the most part abandoned them to their perilous fate.
To that I can only add â€œamen.â€ No one expects an American President to come rushing to Baghdad or Damascus or Amman to embrace the homeless victims of the war the United States started. But something should be done to help them find new lives. Providing more support for the United Nations refugee program, or taking in a more generous number of the refugees whose lives are most at risk, would be a step in the right direction. And a little less attention on television to burning homes in Malibu and more attention by the American media to the invisible victims of the war to â€œliberateâ€ the Iraqis might also help.