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Movements of people in humanitarian crises in the Middle East have not been well understood in the West. Consider the flight from Iraq in the wake of the 2003 American-led invasion of the country. Iraqis did not leave when many in the West expected them to, and then when they did set out into exile, they refused to enter internationally organized holding camps and chose instead to settle on their own in urban centers. Today, as one of their host countries, Syria, is engulfed by a bloody civil war, the international community is racing to create new holding centers beyond its borders. Yet only a few thousand Iraqis have moved out of Syria, and fewer have returned to Iraq. History and culture help explain this behavior, which to an Orientalist mind is perplexing. To understand it, we should consider the historical context of Iraqi migrations not only in the past decade but also in the past century, through to the late Ottoman period. The Iraqi experience helps provide a better understanding of forced migration, asylum, refuge, and hospitality in this region.

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Journal article


American University in Cairo

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