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The Toronto Star

Iraq Crisis' Untold Tales of Refugees

Haroon Siddiqui

There's the refugee crisis in Darfur, there's the refugee crisis in Iraq and there's also the crisis of some Darfurian refugees in Iraq.

About 200 of them trekked there in 2005, just as some went to Israel seeking asylum. They are among the more than 50,000 non-Iraqis caught in the turmoil of Iraq.

They belong to various ethnic or ideological minorities that have been victims of the seemingly endless upheavals of the region, their plight made only worse by the U.S. invasion and occupation.

Here are their untold stories, cobbled together during my recent trip to the region.

Darfurians: They are stuck in a desolate camp near the Iraq-Jordan border, sustained by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

Some American and Australian groups showed an interest in them, but nothing has come of it.

Palestinians: Estimated at between 22,500 and 35,000, they went to Iraq in three batches - after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war; after the 1967 war; and from Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf War, deported with others after Yasser Arafat supported Saddam Hussein in that conflict. After Saddam's fall, many Iraqis turned against the Palestinians, believing them to have been a subsidized and pampered lot.

The (Sunni) Palestinians have been beaten and kidnapped, and their housing complex in Baghdad shelled, mostly by (Shiite) militias.

About 3,000 Palestinians found refuge in four camps, along the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

After repeated appeals by the UN, about 100 were taken by Brazil (which has had an Arab community since the late 1940s). But others remain stuck in no man's land.

Kurds: Historically scattered across four countries, the Kurds have been persecuted in all except Iraq lately. About 16,800 Turkish Kurds, 11,800 Iranian Kurds and 200 Syrian Kurds have found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many arrived well before 2003. Most are scattered in camps. Many are stateless. Some have been recognized as refugees by UNHCR.

Others have no status and are not entitled to any benefits and their kids can't go to school.

Syrian Baathists: A secular group of about 200, they had fled to Iraq to escape the authoritarian rule of the late Hafez Al-Assad. Since 2003, they've been targeted, for being Baathists. Some were kidnapped. Many are in hiding.

Iranians: Besides the Iranian Kurds, two other groups of Iranians are in limbo in Iraq.

The first consists of about 2,500 Iranian Arabs, or Ahwazis after their (secessionist) southern Iranian province of Ahwaz. Most went there during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. They have allegedly been targeted lately by Iranian agents for belonging to the Ahwaz Liberation Front. Four have been reported assassinated. About 100 fled to a camp in the desert.

The second, and more notorious, group is the Mojahideen-e-Khlaq.

These Marxists supported the 1979 Islamic revolution but broke from the clerics and were welcomed by Saddam. Estimated at between 2,500 and 3,000 they fought for him against Iran and were said to have helped him suppress Shiite and Kurdish uprisings.

They are listed as terrorists both by the U.S. State Department and by Iran but have supporters in Congress and parts of the Bush administration (for being the enemy of America's enemy). That explains why their camp outside Baghdad has been protected against the wishes of the Kurds and the Shiites who control the Iraqi government.

The U.S. wants the UN to accept the Mojahideen as refugees for possible relocation abroad. But no country seems to want them. The U.S. isn't taking them either.

Where will all these people go?

--Haroon Siddiqui

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2007

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