Among the many humanitarian disasters produced by the civil war now raging in Iraq is one that is almost invisible. Only rarely do scenes of massive displacement of the civilian population make it onto our television screens, because, unlike bombs and suicide attacks, displacement does not generate the blood, fire, or screams that constitutes compelling footage. Yet the numbers are staggering: each month, some 40,000 Iraqis flee their homes because of the war. Half of them go to other parts of Iraq; the rest go abroad.
Iraq’s population, frankly, is bleeding away. This devastation is even more dramatic because, since the invasion four years ago, only 3,183 Iraqis have been resettled in third countries. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, all countries combined have offered a chance to start a new life to approximately the same number of Iraqi refugees as flee the country in just five days.
This exodus is not new, but since the increased violence that followed the bombing of the Shiite Golden mosque in Samarra in February 2006, the pace of the displacement has accelerated. Indeed, this is the largest population displacement in the Middle East since 1948.
Two million Iraqi refugees are scattered around the region, the great majority of them in Jordan and Syria, with smaller numbers in Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt. Because they are urban refugees – not housed in tents, but rather blending in with the local population in the host countries – they are easily ignored.