Trading coffee and consolation in a ramshackle community of tents on a grassy square in the Hague, dozens of Iraqis are waiting for assistance that may never come.
This campsite, according to a Thursday report from the BBC, is the new home -- and last resort -- for Iraqis who have failed to win amnesty and have thereby lost their entitlements to governmental aid. It is a humanitarian crisis that illustrates the global nature of Middle Eastern turmoil, painting a very clear picture of the human costs of ongoing violence.
"They throw us on the street like dogs," said Aziz, the community’s designated coffee-maker, to the BBC. "But we would rather die here in the Hague than return to Iraq."
These approximately 60 Iraqis are stuck in the middle, inhabiting a veritable no-man’s-land as the cold winter begins to set in. For the most part, they are living off donations -- clothes, water, food -- from nearby churches and a handful of good Samaritans.
Of course, the Hague is not actually no-man’s-land; it is the administrative capital of the Netherlands. The refugees are not occupying an embassy or a consulate, but a spot of public land just off a main road near the city center. These Iraqis face a very real risk of deportation.
They are the unlucky ones. According to the BBC, just under half of Iraqis’ amnesty requests are approved.
"We do individual assessments for each case," said immigration ministry spokesperson Frank Wassenaar.
"The judgment we reach is based on evidence from our embassy in Iraq and from groups like Amnesty International and other local agencies on the ground, plus the stories that these people tell us themselves."
It is a humanitarian issue as well as a legal one; there is good reason why so many Iraqis living abroad are desperately trying to avoid being sent back home.
Many fled the country when Iraq’s sectarian conflict reached its apex in 2006 and 2007, during the U.S. and UK-led occupation of the country. This was after the transition from Baathist rule under Saddam Hussein -- whose administration consisted mostly of Sunnis -- to a civilian government dominated by Shiite Muslims.
The perpetrators of violence came from both sects, and political causes often overlapped with religious ones. Some Shi’as sought retaliation for the suffering they had endured under the Hussein regime, while some Sunnis -- particularly those linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI -- mounted insurgent attacks against the new government.
The worst of the violence has ended, but it’s far from over. AQI, for instance, has seen a resurgence since the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in December of last year. Governmental corruption has also worsened, which makes it more difficult to crack down on criminal violence.
Sectarian tensions have even reached the highest levels of the administration in Baghdad. Former Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of few Sunni top officials in Baghdad’s Shi’a-dominated governments, was accused of plotting several attacks and sentenced to death for the second time on Thursday. Hashemi is currently taking refuge in Turkey.
The conflict in neighboring Syria only exacerbates Iraq’s turmoil. There, a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has grown more and more sectarian over time, and those Sunni-Shi’a rivalries are spilling over into several countries in the region. And to make matters even worse, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were displaced in 2006-2007 crossed the border into Syria -- now, confronted by carnage once more, many feel they have nowhere left to turn.
It is no wonder that the campers in the Hague refuse to go back.
One man named Ajid told the BBC that is he returns to Iraq, he is sure to be killed.
“I phone home and no one knows where my family are; they say my street is kaput, broken,” he said. “If you are Christian or [Sunni] Muslim, you cannot live in Baghdad."