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January 15, 2008

The Forgotten Iraqi Exiles

Gri Amer Post-Surgerylr 070

“The war in Iraq has killed hundreds of thousands, and caused the one of the greatest flights of people in the history of the Middle East. Sixty thousand people flee their homes each month.

But when they are reported on at all, they are seldom individualized. Rather than photographing hundreds of Iraqi refugees to illustrate the epic size of the exodus, I want to follow, for an extended period and in an intimate way, just a few – I want to take the journey with them, to live the aftermath of war with them, and to relate their experiences as if it were happening to me, to understand the experiences that drove them into exile, where they are often viewed with suspicion and even as the enemy.”

–Photojournalist Lori Grinker

In response to an inattentive domestic media and the lack of visual documentation, Lori Grinker has been pursuing the story of Iraqi civilians fleeing the war.

In April, and again in September 2007, she traveled to Amman to photograph Iraqis forced to leave their families, homes and livelihoods for a life of cramped, substandard living conditions, inactivity, and waiting for the time when it will be safe to return to Iraq, or hear that they have found sanctuary in another country. And those are the “lucky” ones. Many of her subjects are in Amman to repair their bodies, only to be to be repatriated to a war zone after they are “healed.”

In the case above, the young man (call him Amer) was burned in an explosion while walking past a fuel truck in Baghdad.  We see the 16-year old coming out of the recovery room after having surgery to fix the contracted fingers on his right hand. He faced the same surgery on his left hand a couple of month later.

For the past two years Amer’s father has taken him to Egypt to treat his burns, then to Iran and he is currently in Jordan where he is having surgery on his hands with  MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) at the Red Crescent Hospital in Amman.

In collaboration with Lori, well known for her documentation of the effects of war, the goal of this site is to bring this situation to a larger, concerned audience.  Moreover, it is an opportunity to throw more light on the moral failure of the United States in failing to humanely and adequate assist the exiles, especially those who have worked directly for the U.S. occupation.

Since fiscal year 2007, only 1,608 of a promised 7,000 refugees were admitted into the U.S. The government has now set a goal of bringing in 12,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal year 2008, with an additional 5,000 visas to be granted among the more than 100,000 Iraqis employed by the U.S. or U.S. Government contractors. Although the plan passed Congress, however, it has yet to be signed into law.

Over the coming months, The BAG plan’s to apply the immediacy and the serialized nature of the blog medium to visually pursue this subject, as well as to personally follow the odyssey of specific refugees in the process of creating a new life.

Gri Amer Films Lori Lr0709

In the meantime, when asked how he is treated by friends and acquaintances in Iraq, Amer said that everyone is nice to him…there are so many wounded people in the streets, it’s normal now.

It is fitting, given the invisibility of this issue, that Amer trains his camera on us.

Lori Grinker website

Afterwar: Veterans From A World In Conflict.  Photographs and Interviews: Lori Grinker

(images: © Lori Grinker.  Amman, Jordan.  2007.  Used by permission)

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