DAMASCUS - The massive influx of Iraqi refugees into Syria has brought rising
prices and overcrowding, but most Syrians seem to have accepted more than a
million of the refugees happily enough.
"I'm looking at it this way," 35-year-old Amri Alaby told IPS. "There
are more people who can now consume, money circulation has increased, and it
is good for the economy."
Alaby, who owns a sweets shop in the Souq al-Hamidiyya area downtown admitted
that prices have increased somewhat as a result of the influx of about 1.5 million
Iraqis. That is one reason that not all Syrians are as accommodating towards
their new guests.
"The prices are going up, everything is going up because of the Iraqis
coming here," said Adel al-Jabbah, 74-year-old owner of a spice shop in
the Bab Touma area of Damascus. "A house that was 15 million Syrian pounds
is now 40 million Syrian pounds."
Al-Jabbah believes that Iraqi refugees are rich, because they pay the asking
price to Syrian landlords, real estate agents and business owners.
"They are people who are going to buy," he said. "Any price
you want, you are going to get it from them."
Al-Jabbah was unwittingly describing the escalating problem of Syrian landlords
and businesses extorting money from Iraqis desperate enough to pay anything
for a secure place to live.
The refugee crisis continues to escalate every day. Suburban trucks commonly
hired by Iraqis fleeing from Baghdad to Syria line many streets in neighborhoods
of Damascus where Iraqis are congregating.
Adhem Mardini, a public information assistant with the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Damascus says the UNHCR is working
alongside the government of Syria, the Red Crescent and other groups to bring
relief to the rising number of refugees.
Mardini told IPS that at least a thousand Iraqis enter Syria every day, and
that the UNHCR is short of staff and funding.
"We have an emergency conference in Geneva Apr. 17-18," Mardini told
IPS. "And we are praying that we will obtain more help from it because
the Iraqis are suffering so much. The Iraqis coming here are completely desperate,
and we need all the help we can get."
In a commentary on the situation of Iraqis in Syria, government daily al-Baath
called the situation "a real crisis," and complained of soaring food
and rent prices as a result of the huge influx. Iraqi refugees now comprise
roughly 8 percent of the Syrian population of about 18 million.
But while many Syrians complain about rising prices and other difficulties
as a result of the influx, they are sympathetic towards the refugees, and blame
the U.S. government rather than the refugees themselves.
"Bush is responsible for all of this," Adnan, a 51-year-old merchant
in the Bab Touma district of Damascus told IPS. "He burnt the Middle East
and caused this suffering. We support the Iraqis here, but he is ultimately
Many other Syrians expressed solidarity with their neighbors from the south.
"We are with the Iraqis, they are our brothers and we believe in one Arabic
nation, so they are having no negative impact on the Syrian people," said
Abdel Aziz, 30-year-old owner of a stationery store. "We are giving all
we can just for the resistance of the Iraqis to withstand this unjust occupation
Azizi added, "No matter what pressure comes to the Syrians from this situation,
they will do their best for their neighbors."
(Inter Press Service)