The case of Iraqi refugees in Syria is very complicated because accurate figures are not available in terms of exact number of refugees, their demographics and economic circumstances. Estimates vary between 800,000 and 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria. There are an estimated 815,000 Iraqi refugees living in Damascus and its suburbs. Many refugees came with significant amounts of cash which they were able to invest. Others came with little money, hoping for a speedy return to Iraq, while others came with empty pockets hoping to find jobs in Syria, or to gain third country resettlement.
The present ongoing violence in Iraq and the drastic situation of the Christians who are still living there and the flexible conditions for the refugees created by the Syrian government have meant that Iraqis continue to come to Syria. This is furthered by the fact that the Jordanian and Lebanese governments are imposing more difficult conditions for Iraqis; therefore Syria is the most promising place of refuge in the region.
Most of the refugees are living in Damascus and its suburbs with a lesser number living in other cities, including Aleppo, Homs and al-Jazira.
It is evident that the Government of Syria has neither the required resources nor the capacity to fully address either the refugees' needs or the socio-economic problems created by their arrival. Currently many refugees are dependent on external aid (which is not consistent), and this reliance makes them further marginalized. The Middle East Council of Churches and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, through a specialized department on development, have been helping Iraqi refugees in different places using donations coming from different local resources. But the real needs are beyond any expectation not only in terms of providing food items from time to time or providing modest medical care assistance, but the social needs are becoming a must and even have become much more urgent today. For example, there are a lot of cases of traumatized people in addition to many strange medical symptoms that children suffer as a result of exposure to various weapons and explosives.
In addition to meeting the needs of as many as possible Iraqi refugees as possible in the years to come in ways that build trust and faith in their hearts so the Iraqis' dignity is not harmed, the more important element is to accelerate the implementation of internal peace and reconciliation inside Iraq so all refugees can get to their home.
Eng. Samer Laham works for the Middle East Council of Churches, and is the Ecumenical Relations officer for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch oF Antioch and all the East, based in Damascus, Syria.