Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, hoping to find a better future there. But most of them were hit with the fact that land is not any greener on the other side.
With Syria’s open door policy, the number of Iraqis turning to its borders is increasing everyday. The Syrian government is struggling to provide Iraqi refugees with their basic necessities such as education and health services. Syrian officials reported that the Iraqi war has been costing the country around 1 billion dollars a year.
According to the BBC, the Syrian government estimates that there are 1.7 million Iraqis within its border. But the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, puts the total at 1.4 million. Half of which are children who are unable to attend schools due to either lack of documents or financial resources.
Many of these children are forced to work such as 14-year-old Saed Shaker who is now selling Iraqi sweets. "I came with my family a year ago. I have no documents on me to be able to register at school. But I also need to work to support my family and help my father", he said.
As little as 33,000 Iraqi children were provided with education in Syria and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is unable to accommodate all of them. However, the UNICEF’s deputy representative in Syria promised that 100,000 Iraqi students will be receiving their education by 2008. Eleven schools have been restored in and around Damascus and around 70 to 100 additional schools are expected to be ready before the new academic year.
Higher education officials in Syria are also struggling to accommodate the increasing number of refugee students. The major concern is the different curriculum between the two countries. And although many Iraqi students can go to private universities, few can afford the fees. A computer engineering student like Abdul Nasser Khaled Hamzah, who is 20-years-old, is expected to pay around USD 4,000 a year for his education.
Children and teenagers who can go to school and work at the same time are considered privileged. The father of five, Adnan Abdul Hamid Hassan, decided to educate his younger children while his eldest son, 21, sacrificed his education to work in a restaurant.
The UN says it doesn’t leave countries hosting refugees to suffer on their own. According to CBC News, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis".
The UNHCR was able to provide Syria with 45 million dollars from the 256 million dollars requested at the international donors’ conference in April.
Maher Al-Husami, a Syrian government minister, made it clear that outside help is urgently needed to provide the basic Iraqi demands. "UN agencies have offered support and they are asking donor countries to do more. Unfortunately the U.S. - which is the main reason behind this crisis - hasn't offered financial support to host countries."
There is more to this tragedy than financial costs, with streets filled with beggars, homeless and illegal workers; raising poverty levels in Syria. According to Amnesty International, many Iraqis were forced to send their children to work illegally to earn some desperately needed cash to pay for food and accommodation, while many young Iraqi girls have turned to prostitution to support their families.
Apparently, Iraqi refugees wouldn't have a better future than those stuck in war-torn Iraq.