The Human Cost of War

Bob Woodruff reports on efforts to assist the millions who fled the war in Iraq.

ByABC News
June 20, 2007, 2:06 PM

June 21, 2007 — -- The United Nations has raised $60 million so far this year for humanitarian relief, with $18 million in contributions from the United States, but the international organization admits the assistance has yet to reach the majority of the refugees who have fled Iraq since the start of the war.

In Damascus, Syria, Sanaa Yousef treks three miles each afternoon to pick up a meal provided by a local church. It is the only food her family will eat all day.

"How can we survive?" she asks.

She cannot work, and said she would "like" go to America.

In fact, thousands of vulnerable Iraqis have applied to be resettled in the United States. But since the start of the war, this country has accepted fewer than 500, and just 63 so far this year.

The Bush administration is accused by critics of dragging its feet because to accept refugees would be a tacit admission of the failure of its policy in Iraq, a charge the administration rejects.

"We have not given up in Iraq. Our troops have not gone. We're still there," said Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. "We're still working very hard trying to create a democracy and a peaceful, stable Iraq."

At the same time, more than two million refugees have been displaced from Iraq since the war began in 2003, and tens of thousands more are leaving every month, including one family that fled after its children were injured.

After his young son was badly burned in a missile attack and his daughter's school suffered repeated bombings, Hussein Ali decided it was time to pack up his family and leave Baghdad.

"I did not think we would survive another day," he said.

Nearly one in 10 Iraqis now lives outside of Iraq, and the vast majority is pouring into Jordan and Syria.

"On any given day we'd have up to a thousand refugees coming here," said Sybella Wilkes, a representative for the United Nation's high commissioner on refugees in Damascus. "Many of the Iraqis here are coming with very little money and are in a very desperate situation."

Ali and his family moved to Amman, Jordan, where they now pay $30 a month to live in a squalid apartment. Jordan, which has already taken in about 800,000 Iraqis, is feeling the crunch. Officials estimate that the influx of refugees is costing the country roughly $1 billion a year.

Syria is also struggling under the weight of its new 1.5 million refugees. Schools are overcrowded, rents have skyrocketed and the government can no longer afford to provide free medical care to the refugees as it does to its residents.

Once they cross the border into Jordan or Syria, Iraqis who used to live comfortably as engineers, doctors and teachers face a tough new reality as refugees.

"If you look at us now, we are like beggars," one man told us. "This is not the way we used to live."

In Jordan, the government says economic and security concerns have forced it to tighten its borders, which means that men aged 18 to 40 are now virtually shut out of the country.

This change came in response to the Amman bombings of 2005, when young Iraqi men coordinated devastating attacks on three hotels in Amman. "We have to ensure that no person on Jordanian soil is a threat to our national security," said Nasser Judeh, the spokesman for the Jordanian government. "That is our right and we will safeguard that right with everything we have."