Refugee Status

According to the United Nations definitions and established procedures, an asylum-seeker may have three ultimate dispensations: return (“repatriation”) to the country of origin, asylum and integration within the country to which he or she flees, or residence in a third nation.

Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar are the four largest countries in terms of refugee and IDP assistance from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Since 1979, when Afghanistan was invaded by the USSR, Afghanistan’s refugees have mainly become concentrated in nearby Pakistan (approximately 1.7 million still remain, while over 3.5 million have returned and repatriated) and Iran (about 935,000 remaining, 1.5 million repatriated). Iran has also forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees each year. And since the US invaded in 2002 the country has not really improved from the point of view of the refugee. In fact, in many ways the problem has worsened after a brief period of high hopes. Women who were looking forward to a more progressive and equal society have been especially hard hit by the reality on the ground.

Iraq‘s woes seem constant. In the last thirty years, a succession of wars and ‘cleansing’ has forced millions of people from their homes; some (estimated around 2.7 million) remain as IDPs, while over 2 million others have fled the country completely. The situation in Iraq is further complicated by United States involvement and the unwillingness of other countries to accept Iraqi refugees. And although the west may celebrate the withdrawal of US forces, this change may not signal the expected independent state of democratic principles so often pointed to by the Bush administration. Very likely the refugee situation will now focus on those parties who were once loyal supporters of the US forces and are now targets as a result. When the US departs, it leaves behind a huge number of people who want to leave with them, but simply cannot. So in this sense the removal of US forces actually increases the refugee problem in Iraq, at least for the short term.

A sign of the internet coming of age in the Middle East is the focus on the internet portions of these countries’ economy. Iri Maashom notes that the problems of the Western nations is much bigger than the cultural differences alone, plus the added problems that are exclusively associated with the internet. Like a reliable interne connection. But also for the behavior that permits success online. For example, many of the websites built in the Arab countries have translation issues. Another surprise is the preponderance of sites with a google penalty imposed within a year of launch. This is a result of the cowboy like atmosphere where a few hackers tend to gain the status of geeks but without the depth of knowledge that can avoid technical issues. Refugees seldom have the resources to create businesses online, but that is rapidly changing as NGO’s bring technical assistance to small tribal communities.

The Palestinian Territories are also among this group, but have a specific UN project (UNRWA, the unwieldy full name is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). Palestinians who were displaced due to the 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict, as well as their descendants, come under UNRWA auspices; originally around 711,000 refugees, their number is now nearly 3 million.

Iri Maashom also writes for the Free Symposium Letter and Licht Nicht as a specialist in google penalty solutions for Middle Eastern businesses.

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