The Human Cost of War

Though Syria has welcomed Iraqi refugees with open arms, the government does not allow them to work legally, so the country has seen a rise in child labor and prostitution as people struggle to find under-the-table ways to make ends meet. Without a legitimate way to earn money, many refugees must subsist on charity while they watch their funds trickle out.

"They are human tragedies," said Bouthaina Shaaban, the Syrian minister of expatriates. "Every Iraqi person on the street is a human tragedy, and I don't think we have the solution. I don't think we have the answer."

Crisis Raises Future Political Concerns

Advocates for the refugees say it has taken the world, and particularly the United States, far too long to recognize this crisis. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch characterized the situation by saying, "I think so far it's been a matter of ignoring the problem, sweeping it under the rug."

In fact, the United States did anticipate and make preparations to handle a refugee problem when the war first began in 2003, but when refugees didn't immediately materialize, the government thought there would be no crisis.

However, as the violence escalated between the Sunnis and Shiites, Iraqis began to flee in overwhelming numbers. Today at least 4 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes, 2 million of which still live within Iraq.

Experts say the refugee crisis carries serious implications for the future of the Middle East since most Iraqis, like the ones we met, blame the United States for their new poverty and homelessness. A primary concern is that this anger could breed a new generation of terrorists.

"Refugees are not just a humanitarian issue that needs to be addressed," noted Ken Pollack of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. "They're also potentially a strategic factor that could lead to the outbreak of new wars or the extension of existing wars."

In spite of the potential dangers of allowing the refugee crisis to spiral out of control, the United States has been slow to share the burden of resettlement.

The first group of Iraqi refugees to be accepted from this war by the United States applied for resettlement after the fighting began in 2003 and are scheduled to arrive this June -- a group of less than 70 people.

Sauerbrey estimated that her office will approve roughly 2,000 resettlement applications for Iraqi refugees by September. But some say it's too little, too late.

"It is amazing that the United States who started this war, in a sense, does not feel its moral responsibility to these people," said Shaaban.

Though most refugees we met told us they dream of going back to Iraq someday, too much has changed for them to return. "How can we return to Iraq when every day there are bombs and there are killings?" asked one man.

"Anyone with a decent mind would not stay in Iraq."

If you are interested in making a donation to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees to help with this crisis, follow this link: www.unhcr.org/give

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