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International Unity for Iraqi Youth

International Unity for Iraqi Youth

Since the conflict in Iraq began, the international community has focused on the

millions of displaced Iraqis living inside Iraq. However, the world has forgotten

the Iraqis who fled their country on foot and found safety in bordering countries.

No one suffers more than the Iraqi children, who number in the hundreds of

thousands and live with their families as refugees outside their native Iraq.

As an American who has had the privilege of working at the United Nations High

Commissioner for Refugees Office (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan, I have dealt first

hand with the problems that many of these Iraqi youth face daily. Jordan, like

many of Iraq’s neighbors, hosts hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.

However, in spite of the assistance of international non-governmental

organizations, the situation for Iraqi refugees remains demanding and complex,

and new strategies are critical to aid these struggling refugees.

The impact of the conflict on the youth of Iraq is profound. According to World

Vision’s 2007 report on displaced Iraqi children, over 540,000 of these young

men and women have been displaced in Iraq’s neighboring countries, with many

of their families lacking legal status as registered refugees. Many Iraqi families

cannot afford to educate their children or provide them with essential healthcare,

which forces many children to participate in illegal activities to sustain their

families. These economic and social deprivations, in addition to the loss of their

original Iraqi culture, isolation from the outside world and constant fear of

deportation, cause severe psychological stress among the young and vulnerable.

This environment in which these Iraqi refugee children are being raised is

dangerous for the country of Iraq, its neighboring countries, and the West,

including the United States. A new generation of deprived, isolated children is

developing along with all of its negative consequences. Those Iraqi children who

will ultimately return to their home country will have difficulty supporting

themselves and their families due to their sub-standard education. These refugee

children are likely to develop contempt for the West, which can augment

international turmoil.

As students in the United States have access to a decent education system and

are exposed to many open cultures, they develop a world view significantly

different from that of the Iraqi children. Iraqi children must be surrounded by a

safe environment where they can grow academically and be supported

psychologically. As Oprah Winfrey has established her ‘Leadership Academy’ in

South Africa, the international community needs to realize the magnitude of

these young refugees’ situation and establish similar academies like Winfrey’s.

By organizations like the United Nations supporting these schools and education

centers, we will be helping both the individual children as well as the country in

which they are currently living or to which they may return. The funding

investments for these projects will have a return on investment that far exceeds

any financial gain for the refugees, their host countries, and the United States.

Upon an eventual return to Iraq, an Iraqi refugee child will be better equipped to

take on a meaningful job and contribute to the rebuilding of his country. As a

result, Iraqi children may reassess their image of the United States and the

international community.

We do not know when the situation in Iraq will end, but for now increasing

numbers of Iraqi refugees will continue to flood the countries surrounding Iraq.

We must implement this solution at once to restore the hope of millions of Iraqi

children as well as to fulfill the United Nation’s greater mission throughout the

world.

For more information regarding Iraqi refugees, or how you can become involved,

please visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website at

www.unhcr.org. There are numerous volunteer opportunities to help Iraqi

refugees living both in the Middle East and in the United States. The UNHCR

also offers the opportunity to donate, which translates directly into educating and

protecting Iraqi refugee children.

Christopher Sfedu

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