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Fri

27

Apr

2007

Riverbend join Ranks of Refugees from Iraq
Friday, 27 April 2007 09:36
by Juan Cole

Prominent Iraqi blogger Riverbend and her family are at last leaving Iraq. The discussions she reports have happened thousands of times a month among Iraqi families:

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.


Only a few fleeing Iraqis have been admitted to the United States, which is a travesty.

Worse, Iraqis who want to come to the US as refugees seeking asylum often face a catch-22 of being defined as terrorists because they have been victimized. For instance, if a family had a member kidnapped, and payed ransom, and then fled to Jordan and applied to come to the US, their having paid the ransom would be considered a form of material support to terrorism and they would be excluded!

In the past 14 months, 750,000 Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. And the US media lets politicians get away with saying that things are "improving"!

See Dahr Jamail on the Iraqi refugee crisis in Jordan and Syria.
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Maher Osseiran said:

Maher Osseiran
Riverbend's Tremendous Courage
I read Riverbend's account this morning and it brought back so many memories from the mid-seventies in Lebanon.

Leaving the home you grew up in is the most difficult decision a person can make.

I don't know how old Riverbend is and if she could have been able to stay on her own. Her intellect and commitment to keep us informed seems to reflect that of her immediate family.

The stuffed animal and the guitar tells me she is not that old and that the family has means. They could have left long ago like others with similar means.

Their departure from Baghdad is an ominous sign; they have been struggling with the idea for a while and from her writings, the decision was made based on solid input. It is now a matter of survival.

I wish the mojority of those who come here wish there was more they could do.
 
April 29, 2007
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