Last night I had the pleasure of participating on a panel at Fordham University, organized by Human Rights First, entitled “Iraqi Citizens: War and Exile”. Although it isn’t mentioned in the title, the panel shared personal stories of Iraqis in exile as well as an emphasis on how media might be harnessed for increasing awareness and advocacy on the issue of resettling some of the 2.2 million Iraqis who have left Iraq and are now refugees, mostly in Jordan and Syria. Of particular interest to the panel are the translators and fixers who helped American and British journalists from as early as spring 2003, as well as those who worked for the US government in Iraq. Many of these brave individuals have faced persecution, death threats, kidnappings. Some have seen friends and family members killed and some have been murdered themselves.

I was invited to participate by the photographer Lori Grinker, who has spent much time photographing Iraqis in Amman, Jordan and who is completing a really moving multimedia piece, with MediaStorm, based on her photographs and interviews with various exiles living there. Her photographs are currently on view in Manhattan and I would encourage people to go to see the show before it closes February 16th. I met Lori a couple of weeks ago at a similar panel at OSI that included and Iraqi doctor who had acted as a translator, and the New Yorker journalist George Packer. (A side note here: Packer, as many people know, has written extensively from Iraq over the last 5 years and his article “Betrayed” in the April 2, 2007 issue of the magazine focused on Iraqi translators and fixers who were struggling to get help from Americans to leave Iraq, was the basis of his new play of the same title now showing at the Culture Project– also worth seeing.)

As Human Rights First organized the panel and have done some wonderful advocacy work on getting attention for the refugee crisis at the national government level, Amelia Templeton helped provide context for what the US government has and has not done to help bring Iraqis to the US for resettlement. Also on the panel was Nour Al-khal who acted as a translator and fixer for the freelance American journalist Steven Vincent with whom she was kidnapped and shot in 2005. Mr. Vincent was killed and Nour survived and after much work by Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci, Nour finally came to the US last June and now helps Lisa run the Steven Vincent Foundation which works to assist families of journalists working in conflict areas around the world and in particular to help female journalists in those regions as well.

I joined the panel to help put forth strategies of how media, particularly as shared online, can help raise awareness about issues that are clearly not on the public radar here in the US. I talked about the Hub and about other initiatives including Alive in Baghdad and Global Voices Online that are amplifying the voices of Iraqis still in Iraq as well as in exile. We got some good questions after our conversation, in particular one member of the audience asked about how Iraqis in exile might make use of media to share information and advocate for themselves, for instance how they might learn about the asylum process to get into the United States. As far as we know the Hub is available in Jordan, and it would be a story if the exile community there used it.

2 thoughts on “What about the Iraqi refugee crisis?

  1. What good timing: Angelina Jolie is in Iraq today advocating for this issue. She said in an interview, “There are over two million displaced people and there never seems to be a real coherent plan to help them…Of the two million internally displaced, it’s estimated 58% are under 12 years old. It’s a very high number of people in a very, very vulnerable situation and a lot of young kids."

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