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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 13:29 GMT
Iraqi refugees: 'We can't return"
The decrease in violence in Iraq over the past few months has seen a number of Iraqis return home. But many of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the violence are unable or unwilling to go back.

In the second of two stories from Iraqi women now living in Damascus, Noor describes why she and her family left and what life is like in Syria.


Noor, who is Sunni, and her family arrived in Syria 18 months ago and settled in Damascus.

We left Baghdad because we were threatened by the Mehdi army.

An female Iraqi refugee in Damascus
An Iraqi refugee checks her name is on a food aid list in Damascus

We had to go immediately, leaving everything: clothes, furniture, all the things you accumulate when you live more than 20 years in the same house.

Things had been getting worse for a while. One event especially, sticks in my mind.

Neighbours of ours had been forcibly removed from their home three houses down from us.

One morning a few days after they had disappeared, one of my daughters walked down the road and saw the heads of our neighbours lined up on the wall of the house.

She was hysterical and couldn't leave the house for weeks. If someone went out we never knew if they would return. So, we left for general security reasons as well as the specific threat.

The Iraqi government claims lots of people have returned home because of the improved security. That's not true. They have been forced to go back because they cannot get residency in Syria

It was a sad departure. Leaving our country and heading for the unknown, without any planning or financial resources. It's hard to describe how it felt.

Here in Syria we live in a third-floor flat. It's very cold - but the price of fuel is high. We lack many basic things: blankets, fuel for cooking and heating.

The biggest irony is that we fled an oil-rich country - for a place where we cannot afford the fuel bills.

Our situation frightens me. I cannot stress enough - there are no jobs for us here in Syria.

I am 55 now and life is a struggle. We spend long hours looking for work so we can put food on the table. It's survival, no more and no less.

2.4m Iraqis internally displaced
2m Iraqi refugees abroad
Iraqi government offering US$800 to those who return
3,650 families registered in Baghdad for grant
6,000 families waiting to register for grant
Source: International Organisation for Migration

Only our determination prevents us from choosing the immoral option as a means of survival. I don't even want to articulate it; I'm afraid of seeing it written down. We are committed to surviving decently.

That is how we spend our time - struggling to survive and feeling sadness and hunger. The international community is failing us. We haven't received any proper help in the form of food or money, either.


The residency rules for Iraqis in Syria have changed recently. If you have children of school age - as we do - you can get it, but it's not easy. Those without children have to leave.

The Iraqi government claims lots of people have returned home because of the improved security. That's not true. They have been forced to go back because they cannot get residency in Syria.

We will return when we can get our house and furniture back. We cannot think of going back right now because the place is still controlled by militias and by the American occupiers.

It kills me feeling time passing like this - especially when I look at my children going to sleep hungry, or without proper medical care.

Many Syrians see us as rivals who want to steal their jobs and food

We have taken them out of the world they know, and asked them to live in a strange new society.

My son Ali is 18 and has just graduated from high school. But he cannot go to university here.

Another of my children is still at school. He is always alone now; afraid of mixing with children his own age in case he gets bullied.

Children tell him: "You are a coward, you ran away from your country."

Syrian poverty

I understand that it's difficult for Syrians to have so many Iraqis in their country.

Some see us as rivals who want to steal their jobs and their food.

Syria is a poor country and prices have risen enormously since Iraqis started arriving. There are more than two million of us here now, so it's hard for ordinary Syrians.

Others, mainly people who run their own businesses, are happy to find cheap labour. Iraqis are prepared to take any jobs now and any pay, just to survive.

Educated Syrians, people who are aware of what Iraqis have been through, are easier to deal with.

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