Families displaced in Damascus wait for their daily cooked meal. Like Tarik’s family, each receives a food basket to supplement breakfast and lunch. (Jesuit Refugee Service Syria)
(Damascus) December 22, 2013 — After being forced to flee Iraq, Tarik* thought he had found safety for himself and his family in Syria. Two short years later conflict broke out.
Despite the insecurity in Syria, Tarik feels it is too dangerous to return to Iraq, a country where more than 5,000 people have died this year from sectarian violence.
Today, Tarik lives in Jaramana, a densely populated area of Damascus, home to Iraqis and Syrians, Christians, Druze and Muslims. Jaramana is well known for its diversity, affordable lifestyle and social vibrancy. Yet, there has recently been a sharp increase in violence in Jaramana as combatants contest for nearby territory. In addition to the mortars, rockets and bullets, a car bomb in October killed at least six people in Jaramana.
Tarik's testimony. My story is like that of many Iraqi families. We're all victims of war. I'm a 51 years old heavy machinery mechanical engineer. I'm married with one daughter and two sons. My youngest son has mental health problems because of the many murders he witnessed on a daily basis in Iraq.
We were first displaced for religious reasons. We're a Sunni family, but my mother-in-law is a Shiite. So we ended up falling victim to persecution from all sides in Iraq, owing to our family's religious diversity. We left Iraq and sought safety in Syria – like so many other Iraqis.
We moved to a suburb of Damascus, called Harasta, in 2009. We went to the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) and registered, allowing us to receive support.
When conflict spread to Harasta, we were displaced again. Yet again we fled violence. With the help of the UNHCR, we moved from Harasta to one of the collective shelters in Damascus city in 2012. Conditions were very difficult there, so we moved to Jaramana.
But, life in Jaramana is difficult because the financial support we receive from UNHCR is not enough to pay the rent and buy the basics. It's harder in the winter. We don't have any winter clothes or warm blankets. Using gas to heat our home is too expensive.
Our financial difficulties linger. I'm no longer able to work for health reasons. What's more I suffer from arthritis in my knees, which costs my family a further 10,000 Syrian pounds ($75) per month in medication. We receive enough food support now, but milk, not included in the food basket, has become an expensive rarity.
Iraqis in Syria. Tarik's story is not unusual to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still inside Syria with very few options before them. With the closure of the U.S. and European embassies in Syria, resettlement options for Iraqis inside Syria have been put on hold. Although neighboring borders remain open, it remains very dangerous to travel south to Jordan or north to Turkey through intense fighting zones.
Iraqis cannot easily enter Lebanon, and for many it is not possible to return to Iraq because of the ongoing extreme sectarian violence. Hemmed in on all sides by conflicts and burdened with financial woes, Tarik and others have little choice but to remain in Syria.
As the region is eclipsed by the Syrian conflict, and humanitarian agencies struggle to meet the most basic needs of nearly eight million Syrians, Iraqis are a "forgotten" refugee population, increasingly forced to eke out their existence on the sidelines of yet another conflict.
JRS provides Tarik and his family with monthly food baskets and summer and winter clothing for the children. You can help support refugees like Tarik. Click here to make a secure online donation.
* Name changed for security reasons