April 16, 2007

Blown to the Winds...

Have you ever been lost?

Like, have you ever tried walking in one direction only to end up in another ?

Have you ever been without a map, searching for signposts? A total stranger where the streets, the faces, the roads are the Unknown to you ?

Have you ever walked and kept on walking, thinking to yourself, this it, you have nearly reached your destination only to find out that your destination has moved ?

Have you ever asked for guidance and been given the wrong directions?

Have you ever desperately searched for someone to assist you and found no one?

Have you travelled for miles on foot, erring, wandering and thinking to yourself this has become your route...a route that seems long but is in fact a cul de sac?

In your circumambulations around yourself, have you ever caressed the gates of a home that looked so much like yours?

Have you ever had doors slamming in your face? Have you ever come across banners saying you are not allowed in? Have you ever been made to feel that you are a burden? Cumbersome? Unwanted? Rejected? Despised? Or at best, pitifully tolerated ?

Have you ever felt like a beggar even though you hold all the riches of the world inside of you ? Have you ever begged for validation, recognition, a voice you can borrow, a hand you can use ?

Have you ever been classified, labeled, pigeonholed, branded and given a serial number ?

Did you ever hate yourself in the process? In the process of becoming a non person, a non being, a non citizen of anything ?

No? Then consider yourself very lucky. Unfortunately for the 2 million Iraqis and the hundreds of Palestinians, in exodus, in exile, they do not share your good fortune.

Add to them, the other 2 million internally displaced, living in tents, refugees in their own country.

A country that no longer tolerates or wants them. Most have fled due to sectarian violence, a lot of them underwent torture ordeals, the majority at the hands of the Jaysh Al Mahdi of Muqtada al Sadr and the other death militias tied to the Iraqi puppet government.

Let's call her Umm Fadhil, a woman in her 60's from Falluja. She lost one eye after a sectarian son of a bitch poked it with a screw driver. She lingered in the street screaming, blood pouring out of her eye. She also has a "hole" in her heart, a lung condition, and is asthmatic and above all, she has no one...

Am sure you are very concerned now. Let me ease your guilty conscience, maybe you will feel better.

Umm Fadhil is now in Damascus, sleeping on a mattress on some damp floor, and thanks to the good will of a Syrian woman, she receives food once a week, every Thursday, to be more precise.

Abu Ali, from Najaf, works one day out of ten on the black market. He has a family to support.
They all sleep on the floor of something called a furnished apartment in Damascus. His rent is 245$. Occasionally the shia Hawza gives him 58$ to help him with his medication. Abu Ali has all the physical ills of the world.

Haytham swears that if he has breakfast, he cannot have lunch or dinner. Another "refugee" in Damascus. Living off scraps. His life has become scraps like the scraps he collects trying to make a living.

Yasmeen, a dentist, works for 100$ a month, as a dental hygienist in Amman.
With these 100$ she looks after her parents and grandparents and pays the rent. She also teaches her boss, the Jordanian dentist how to do fillings...

Sobhi, a graduate in computer sciences, spends his days smoking his life away and walking the streets of Amman looking for a job on the black market where he will be getting the wages of a slave. No Iraqi is officially allowed to work either in Syria or Jordan.

Lateef, a Phd in engineering tends the garden of some nouveau riche Jordanian, who made his fortune out of Iraqi blood.

Sarab, a widow, spends her nights in some seedy 2 cents bar, waiting for clients. She has been wearing the same dress for the past 3 months and has 3 kids to feed.

As for the Palestinians, they are once more stranded at the borders, in tents...Over and over again. No neighboring country would allow them in.

A short clip of the refugees from Iraq. Your beloved new democracy.

Shunned, turned down, unwanted and very much alone...

In Jordan, those with a valid permit are refused renewal. Does not matter how long they have been living there. They will simply not renew the residence permits.

UNHCR promised the governments concerned millions. You can make heaps of money calling them refugees.

Mariam, 54, a Phd in industrial engineering was summoned by the "respectable" agency.

" Fill this application for us.
Are you a baathist, a saddamist?
What was your father's name and occupation? Your mother's? Your sibling's? Your uncle's and aunts? Your grandfather,your great grandfather, your great grand mother?

They are all dead.

Does not matter, we still need to know their name and occupation.
What diplomas do you have?

A Phd in Engineering.

Why did you leave?

I lived alone and I received several death threats from the Mahdi Army of Muqtada Al Sadr.

What is your preferred country? Ireland, Australia, England, Sweden? And why?

None of these.

Who do you know there?

No one

We will give you 30 JD a month until you are "placed". Do you really need them ? "

Mariam woke at 5 am to queue at the UNHCR office in Amman, to fill this intelligent application form. Hundreds were queuing before her. The same scene repeats itself in Damascus.

"I don’t want to go to Australia. I have no one in Austalia.

You have no choice.

But I had a permit for the past two years. I am not asking you or the government for anything.
I am even willing to sign a paper promising you I will not work here. Just don't send me to Australia.

You don't understand, you are refugee.

Does that mean I can never go back? Does that mean I will not see my home again?

If you go back you are no longer a refugee. You will not get the 30 JD's a month. And you have no valid passport. "
(the passport issue is a whole story by itself which I will deal with in some later post.)

The queues are getting longer and longer...Some have been queuing for weeks and some for months...
Some have no savings left, some have nothing left...
Most "live", like Umm Fadhil, on the good will of whomsoever gives them food once a week. Most live in squalid conditions with no running water and sometimes no electricity.

When asked, the Jordanians blame "them" for the high rate of inflation and the rising price of real estate, basic services and goods.
Of course they don't blame their government who is still getting preferential rates in oil supplies. They don't blame their businessmen who made millions out of Iraqi corpses.They don't blame their real estate dealers who have inflated the prices for a quick profit. They don't blame America. They blame the destitute Iraqis.

In Syria, the same complaints but the words are stronger. "They" (the Iraqis) are insulted for "taking over" and being there.

Being becomes a sin, survival becomes the biggest crime. Iraqis, the victims, have become the scapegoat. They should have all died instead, so as not to bother anyone.

Both the Syrians and the Jordanians must have forgotten the hospitality of the previous Iraqi regime, where they settled in special buildings and neighborhoods, where they got grants and preferential treatment and if they were students, their logdgings and education were free of charge...Yes memory is short indeed.
Believe it or not, the few Iraqis in Mauritania complain of the same treatment. Seems the Mauritanians have gone amnesic too.

The whole world has become amnesic...And Iraqis are queuing at the crack of dawn...
Erased from the collectivity. Erased from any status. Erased from belonging. Erased from being...

A serial number on some application form, a shadows on a street, a "mob" with no map, no guidance, no acceptance...No nothing.

That same nothingness that has pervaded everything in our lives.
A continuation of your nihilism, a continuation of your absenteeism, a continuation of your silence...

The Iraqis of nothingness. The Iraqis of the void. The Iraqis of your crimes...

The Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Falling leaves from a branch. A branch forcibly torn away from a tree trunk. And a tree violently pulled out from its roots.

I suddenly feel a chill. A sudden cold wind blowing, through my empty ribs, through my uprootedness...I must be erringly lost too, like some refugee.

The latest from the Geneva meeting around the Refugee crisis in Iraq :
50'000 Iraqis are fleeing the country on a monthly basis.
Presently, there are 4 million Iraqi refugees.
2 Million internally displaced. Another 2 million outside of Iraq.
1 Million in Syria, 750'000 in Jordan, the rest spread out in neighboring countries.
According to the Commission:
"We urge the neighboring countries not to close their borders. We urge the EU and others to actively participate in resolving this crisis. The Middle East is heading towards a disaster of unprecedented proportions known in modern history. The refugee crisis is drawing a NEW DEMOGRAPHIC MAP, retracing Iraq along ETHNIC lines."

Iran and Israel must be gleeing with contentment now.

Painting: Iraqi artist, Naman Hadi. "The Uprooted".