Posted by: Lister | August 24, 2007

Syria and the Iraqi refugees struggle

The BBC has an article called Iraqi refugees struggle in Syria, while SFGate’s article is 1.4 million Iraqis push Syria to edge

From the BBC:

While Syria has given all Iraqis access to its education and health services, the sheer number of refugees seeking help mean most don’t get what they need.

The Syrian government estimates there are 1.7 million Iraqis within its borders. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, puts the total at 1.4 million.

UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF believes around half of all Iraqi refugees in Syria are of school age.

Many of the families lack the documents necessary to officially send their childrens to school. They fled Iraq without all their papers.

The UNHCR has already rehabilitated 11 schools in and around Damascus. It is preparing 70-100 schools for the new academic year, as well as building from scratch eight new schools.

UNHCR and UNICEF have launched a global appeal to help cover the costs for such programmes in Syria and Jordan.

[…] Syria’s public higher education system is also technically open to all Iraqis. However, as the Syrian curriculum is different from the Iraqi one, many students are unable to join.

Private universities offer Iraqis the chance to study within an international system – if they can afford it. The Syrian International University is dedicated largely to the Iraqi community. The dean is Iraqi, as are most of the students and other professors.

[…] In April, Syria asked the international donors’ conference for US $256 million over two years to help cover the cost of delivering basic services to Iraqis.

UNHCR has delivered US $45 million of this so far. Syrian officials say the Iraqi refugee crisis is costing the country around US $1 billion a year.

SFGate disagrees with some of the numbers. It implies that more Iraqi children are attending school and reports less money donated to Syria from the UN.

At public schools across Damascus, the capital, overwhelmed teachers are forced to work double shifts to accommodate Iraqis pushing class sizes to as high as 70 students. Meanwhile, rolling power blackouts blanket the city for up to five hours a day because the country’s electrical grid can’t meet increasing energy demands during one of the warmest summers on record. Blackouts in some suburbs reportedly last up to 12 hours.

The population explosion – the International Monetary Fund said Iraqis now make up 8 percent of Syria’s population – plus U.S. economic sanctions and declining oil exports are stretching finances dangerously thin.

[…] Increasingly, Iraqis are drawing the ire of many Syrians, who complain that indigent Iraqi laborers are taking jobs for lower-than-average pay and increasing unemployment, which hovers around 20 percent.

Criminal activity and Iraq’s sectarian tensions are starting to spill over, with a marked rise in prostitution, rumors of Iraqis kidnapping Iraqis for ransom, and Sunnis and Shiites settling old scores.

[…] The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has a budget of $67 million for the entire region, with $14 million earmarked for Syria this year. UNHCR, however, has increased its budget for its regional Iraq operation to $123 million.

[…] At last month’s meeting in Amman over Iraq refugees, the Jordanian government announced that the annual cost of hosting 700,000 Iraqi refugees approached $1 billion. Refugee inflows and a loss of subsidized oil from Iraq after the U.S. invasion caused inflation in Jordan to jump to 6.25 percent in 2006 from 1.6 percent in 2003, according to a study conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies, an Amman think tank.

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