Refugees and Health

Amal, an Iraqi refugee living in Damascus, Syria, fled her home in Baghdad in 2006 after her two brothers were killed by militias.  Once in Syria, she encountered a long, uncertain application process for resettlement. “We have been waiting for so long and they do not give us any hope,” she said. Security is one of the most pressing concerns for Iraqis and Afghans struggling to go about their day-to-day lives in situations of war. But as Amal makes clear, the insecurities that Iraqis and Afghans face extend far beyond the violence of guns and grenades. They include food insecurities, inadequate health care, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, unemployment, economic hardship, makeshift housing, and the loss of home and community. Millions, like Amal, who have sought refuge in neighboring countries, have encountered further insecurities in the context of exile: difficulties in renewing visas, the denial of civil rights and services, no access to work, the fear of deportation, and anxiety about the future. “Today is better than tomorrow,” has become a popular Iraqi saying. 

25 Over two and a half million Iraqis have fled their homes and have not returned. In Afghanistan, where war has devastated the population since the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, over 6 million Afghans have been displaced in the past three decades. The extension of the war into Pakistan has created widespread dislocations in that country as well.  Many of these displaced persons, usually poorer migrants who lack the finances necessary to travel abroad or meet another country’s visa requirements, have had to relocate within Iraq or Afghanistan. In Baghdad, internally displaced persons (IDPs) often squat in bombed-out buildings with no water, electricity, sewage, or garbage disposal. These precarious living conditions are further heightened by unemployment. According to a 2006 survey by the World Food Program, nearly two-thirds of heads of households among IDPs in Iraq were not working or able to find work. A third of the population in Afghanistan survives on less than $1 a day. 

Those who have managed to escape the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fled to nearby Arab states including Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. The refugee influx into these states has strained their resources, infrastructure, and the livelihoods of their urban working classes. Given the continued reluctance of Western states to resettle Iraqi and Afghan refugees, the limited international assistance received by host states, and the uncertainty as to time of return, the refugee situation continues to worsen.  (Text updated as of November 2012)

[1]  IRC, “Noted:  there’s no going home for Iraqi Squatters,” (December 20, 2011),

[2]  Refugees International, “Pakistan,” (2011),