The dirty little secret of the Iraq war isn’t in Baghdad or Basra. Rather, it’s found in the squalid brothels of Damascus and the poorest neighborhoods of East Amman.
Some two million Iraqis have fled their homeland and are now sheltering in run-down neighborhoods in surrounding countries. These are the new Palestinians, the 21st-century Arab diaspora that threatens the region’s stability.
Many youngsters are getting no education, and some girls are pushed into prostitution, particularly in Damascus. Impoverished, angry, disenfranchised, unwanted, these Iraqis are a combustible new Middle Eastern element that no one wants to address or even think about.
American hawks prefer to address the region’s security challenges by devoting billions of dollars to permanent American military bases. A simpler way to fight extremism would be to pay school fees for refugee children to ensure that they at least get an education and don’t become forever marginalized and underemployed.
We broke Iraq, and we have a moral responsibility to those whose lives have been shattered by our actions. Helping them is also in our national interest, for we’ll regret our myopia if we allow young Iraqi refugees to grow up uneducated and unemployable, festering in their societies.
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It’s among the largest humanitarian crises in the world today,” said Michael Kocher, a refugee expert at the International Rescue Committee, which recently published a report on the crisis. “It’s getting very little attention from the Security Council on down, which we feel is scandalous and also bad strategy.”
It’s easy to blame the surrounding countries, such as Jordan and Syria, for not being more hospitable to Iraqis. But those countries have, however grudgingly, tolerated the influx despite the burden and political risk.
Iraqi refugees are hard to count but may now amount to 8 percent of Jordan’s population of six million. The average Jordanian family, which opposed the war in the first place, is now bearing a cost that may be as much as $1,000 per year for providing for the refugees.
In contrast, last year the United States took in only 1,608 Iraqis. European countries have done better, but they believe that America created the refugee crisis and should take the lead in resolving it.
“Apathy towards the crisis has been the overwhelming response,” Amnesty International said in a report last week.
We have already seen, in the case of Palestinians, how a refugee diaspora can destabilize a region for decades. If Jordan were to collapse in part from such pressures, that would be a catastrophe — and the best way to prevent that isn’t to give it Blackhawk helicopters, but help with school fees and school construction.
If we let the Iraqi refugee crisis drag on — and especially if we allow young refugees to miss an education so that they will never have a future — then we are sentencing ourselves to endure their wrath for decades to come. Educating Iraqis may not be as glamorous as bombing them, but it will do far more good.