Iraq: The Exodus Continues
Despite the increased safety that some Iraqi Christians feel now that the election process is over, some say that there are still more refugees fleeing their country than returning to it.
By Roland Flamini
3/31/2010 Iraq (AINA) – What’s wrong with this picture? Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, with the phased American military withdrawal already underway and following elections this month that the Obama administration hopes will mark the closing chapter of U.S. involvement in Iraq, there are still more Iraqi refugees leaving their country than returning to it. According to the latest report from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, released last week, 24,000 Iraqi refugees sought asylum in the industrialized nations in 2009. But that’s not counting those who crossed into Syria or Jordan, who have in the past tended to be more numerous but are not covered in the U.N. surveys. According to a Brookings Institution ongoing Iraq watch, there are now 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, and around 450,000 in Jordan.
So who still feels threatened enough to want to leave? Iraq’s smaller, non-Muslim religious and ethnic minorities represent a disproportionately high percentage of registered refugees. Since 2003, the country’s Chaldean Catholics, Assyrian Orthodox, Yazidis, Sabean Mandaeans, and Turkmen have been decimated. Iraq’s Christian community, for example — one of the oldest in the world — has been the target of continuous violence from Islamic extremists, mainly Shiites. Iraqi Christians have been killed, abducted, beaten, threatened, and forced to convert; several of their churches have been bombed and their properties destroyed. A Christian minority numbering 1.4 million prior to the invasion has been reduced to less than 500,000.