UNHCR-run festival in Syria highlights arts and culture of Iraq
News Stories, 3 April 2008
DAMASCUS, Syria, April 3 (UNHCR) – As the Iraq crisis enters its sixth year, the UN refugee agency has been highlighting the culture and artistic talents of the Iraqi people during a weeklong festival in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Artists, musicians, actors, dancers and poets have come together at the French Cultural Centre to show that Iraq's artistic tradition is alive and well despite the turmoil and massive displacement that has been taking place in their country since the April 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The "Five Years On" festival opened last Sunday and some of the art featured will be sent to the United States and Europe for exhibition after the event closes on Friday. Two concerts of Iraqi music are taking place during the week.
The programme reflects Iraq's rich and diverse history of music with the oud, nai and qanun being played. Included is Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian music from every corner of Iraq.
"We are here today to remember that Iraqis have faced five years of upheaval and turmoil. Many are refugees. Their talent in the face of sorrow is an expression of the strength and courage of all Iraqi refugees," Laurens Jolle, UNHCR's representative in Syria, said at the festival opening on Sunday.
During the week, hundreds of Syrian, Iraqi and expatriate children have been attending an Iraqi refugee clown performance, videos of Iraqi children at school, at work and at home, and a debate led by UNHCR staff.
For the non-Iraqi children, the clown show is presented as one of the ways that UNHCR tries to help young refugees who have lost loved family members and faced trauma.
"The story of the little girl who lost her four brothers and father was very sad, but she smiled at the camera when she finished telling her story. What an amazing girl. I was happy to laugh with the clowns after hearing this sad story, but I will not forget the little girl," said a 10-year-old girl from the French school in Damascus.
This is the fourth event held by UNHCR Damascus as part of its "Express Yourself" campaign, which aims to promote Iraqi talent and give Iraqi refugees creative avenues to express what it means for them to be refugees. In addition, a troupe of clowns regularly visit the UNHCR Registration Centre in Damascus as well as community centres, clinics and homes.
An estimated 2 million people have fled violence in Iraq and escaped overseas, including some 1.5 million in Syria.
By Sybella Wilkes in Damascus, Syria
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over 3 million Syrians are now refugees
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Refugees contribute to the culture of their host community. Some are well-known artists, painters, poets or novelists. Dante Alighieri created the major part of his work during his exile. Playwright Bertold Brecht, authors Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, poets Pablo Neruda and Jorge Semprun, musician Miguel Angel Estrellas, painters Lucian Freud and Remedios Varo - all suffered periods of exile which, in some cases, deeply colored their work. The theme of exile can be studied in literature, the history of music and art.
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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement
UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.
In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities
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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement
Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.
Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.
Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.
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Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
Iraqi Refugees in Jordan
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UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.
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