Syria and Jordan: The Iraqi Exodus

An exodus of more than 2 million Iraqis is reshaping the Middle East -- with ominous implications for the region.

Driven out of Iraq and into neighboring countries by sectarian violence, a once prosperous middle class is drawing down savings -- and fueling local resentments. The newcomers are blamed for burdening public services, crowding schools and driving up housing costs, even as they struggle for survival.

Iraqi Professionals are reduced to accepting handouts. Children are going unschooled. Girls are turning to prostitution.

Iraq, meanwhile, is missing a population vital to its peaceful reconstruction.

Matthew Hay Brown travels to Syria and Jordan, the countries that have taken in the greatest number of Iraqis, to record the voices of a new diaspora -- and to explore what their dispersal means for the future of Iraq, and of the Middle East.

Matthew is the Pulitzer Center World Affairs Journalism Fellow at the International Center for Journalists.

Syria: A complicated relationship

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Damascus, Syria

The relationship between Iraqi refugees and their hosts in Syria and Jordan is complicated.

On the one hand, I have heard much talk of Arab brotherhood among both officials and ordinary people in the two countries. On the other, Iraqis in both countries are blamed for rising prices and housing costs.

Salaam Marougi says he understands the negative reactions he occasionally encounters.

Syria: A safe zone, of sorts

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Damascus, Syria

As a Sunni Muslim married to a Shia, Hamid Al Dulayme was threatened by both sides in Baghdad. When militia members broke into his house in 2005, he fled Iraq.

In Syria, he says, he has left sectarian conflict behind. "The best thing here is there is no problem between different groups," Dulayme told me this morning in Saida Zeinab, a suburb of Damascus now dominated by refugees.

Syria: A potential disaster

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Damascus, Syria

Of Mustafa Hamad's 10 children, seven are old enough to go to school. Only four do.

The Iraqi Kurd, who brought his family here from Baghdad last year, is surviving on assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and remittances from a brother-in-law who lives in Britain. He says he can't afford school fees for three of his daughters.

Jordan: The good old days

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center
Amman, Jordan

Najim Abid Hajwal has been having a difficult time renewing his passport.

He submitted his paperwork at the Iraqi Embassy here, but was told days later that he was wanted back home in Iraq. It turned out the Interior Ministry was after someone with a similar name. He submitted new paperwork to prove his identity, but was issued a passport with a wrong name.

It's enough to make an Iraqi nostalgic for the good old days.