an undoing world

Photo by Flickr user .ash used under a Creative Commons license.

Meredith has religion covered today, so I guess I have to do a post on foreign affairs.

If we are betting on what will be the most significant long-term consequence of the Iraq War, my money is on the refugee crisis. I posted earlier on threats facing Christian communities in Iraq.

Now Laura Gibbs sends in this fascinating article on the plight of the Mandeans. Before the war, Iraq was home to the only Mandean community left in the modern world. Practitioners of a 2,000 year old religious tradition closely related to Christianity, the Mandeans did not have an easy time under Saddam Hussein. The dictator infamously drained the vast marshes where they made their homes after the first Gulf War.

But in the post-Saddam era, they have faced an even greater disaster:

When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. Like millions of other Iraqis, those who managed to escape have become refugees, primarily in Syria and Jordan, with smaller numbers in Australia, Indonesia, Sweden and Yemen.

Syria and Jordan have become home to more than just Mandeans. Human Rights First reports that Jordan is now home to approximately 750,000 refugees, who make up more than 10 percent (!!!!!) of the total population. HRF provide more troubling statistics — the estimated number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan who are school-age children is 200,000-250,000; the estimated number enrolled in school is 20,000.

Syria is home to more than 1 million refugees, by some estimates 2 million. And more are arriving every day. Both nations are being stretched to limit taking care of this uprooted, desperate population.

But the United States is doing its part to to assist this population that we are in no small part responsible for, right? Not quite. Again from the article on the Mandeans:

Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration’s commitment to let in 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended last month, fewer than 2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country.

Compared to the magnitude of the problem, the U.S. effort is nonexistent.

We’ve seen this before. In Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo, successive civil wars led to a refugee crisis that exacerbated tensions in all three countries. The result was a horrific tragedy now seen rightly as a modern day genocide.

Or take an example even closer to Iraq: Palestinian refugees since the 1948 War have been at the center of conflicts in Israel and every nation that it borders. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to inflame Muslim sentiments against the West throughout the Middle East and the world.

We have a moral obligation to help these people and a practical interest in preventing another uprooted population from further destabilizing a volatile region. But so far we seem determined not to learn from history.

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