Arthur Chrenkoff has posted another round in his Good News from Iraq series. Particularly compelling is a part about the return of Iraqi refugees and exiles.
In the run-up to military action in March 2003, many anti-war activists were predicting that the Coalition invasion will lead to a humanitarian and a refugee disaster. In reality, not only have the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of refugees did not materialize, but ever since, the old Iraqi refugee problem has been gradually solving itself:
“Until the spring of 2003, the Islamic Republic of Iran hosted over 202,000 Iraqi refugees, by far the largest registered refugee population from Iraq in the world. The majority were living in Iranian cities and settlements. About 50,000 of them, like Mohammed, stayed for many years in the 22 camps scattered across Iran’s western provinces.
“Since last year, more than half of all Iraqi refugees in Iran - an estimated 107,000 people - have returned to their homeland. Most of them have gone back of their own accord, some 12,500 with UNHCR assistance. The rate of departure has been even higher among refugees staying in camps, with more than 80 percent of them choosing to repatriate. This has led to a drastic fall in the overall camp population to 8,000 from 50,000. Six out of 22 camps are now empty, another two are expected to be closed by the end of the year. Of the remaining 14 camps, many are already near empty.”
As Iraqi refugees and exiles are coming back, many areas of their homeland don’t resemble the chaotic picture seen every night on the news. Kuridstan remains peaceful and buzzing with activity; an example of what the rest of the country could aspire to: “Western businessmen move freely around the region’s capital, Irbil, and American soldiers eat in restaurants without their body armour. In the crowded foyer of the Sheraton, Kurdish businessmen and politicians discuss reconstruction work.” It’s not just peace and growing prosperity, but also free intellectual climate which is attracting people to Kurdistan:
“Kurdish students living in Iraq’s neighbours are flocking to universities in the Kurdish areas to escape repression at home and to benefit from the opportunities they say the region offers.
“The University of Sulaimaniyah alone has so far accepted more than 110 Kurdish students from neighbouring countries, mainly Iran and Syria, under a programme that reserves five per cent of all places at Iraqi Kurdish universities for high school graduates educated elsewhere.
“The foreign students receive free tuition and accommodation and a 100 US dollar allowance each term.
“Thirty-year old Farzeen, a first year student at Sulaimaniyah’s media college from the Iranian town of Saqiz, said education in Iran is expensive in Iran and freedom of speech limited. ‘You can’t express any political beliefs or air your views freely or you end up in jail, especially if you are a Kurd,’ said Farzeen.”