As Iraq tilts ever closer to abject chaos and civil war, the world’s attention naturally focuses on military actions, and on what steps the U.S. might take in a war it had hoped was over and done with. But it’s crucial to watch civilian actions, as well – in this case, the sudden and ballooning number of Iraqis fleeing their homes to avoid the war (amid reports of summary executions of civilians in Mosul by
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The three-year civil war in neighboring Syria has already sent more than 2.8 million people on the move, as well, the UNHCR says, meaning at least 3.6 million civilians in the region have been forced from their homes since January 2011. Some 200,000 of the Syrian refugees had earlier sought shelter in Iraq, and it's unclear how many of them might now be on the move again. Many find space with family and friends living out of the way of the worst of the fighting, but tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are squatting in camps scattered across the region, including neighboring nations such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
There are no prescriptions for dealing with this, beyond the UNHCR trying to draw money out of member nations to provide shelter, basic medical care and food to those they can reach, and to maintain refugee camps. And that's expensive. The UNHCR's budget hit $5.3 billion at the end of June 2013, and its costs have increased since.
And no, there's not much to be optimistic about here.