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IRAQ REFUGEE CRISIS - A diary from Damascus.

We visited 'Iraqi Street' in the Saida Zeinab district of Damascus today to meet with more refugees, accompanied, of course, by a Syrian government minder to ensure we that did not stray from places we had permission to work in.

I spoke with a 35-year-old Iraqi man called Falah Hassan, who sells mobile phones, batteries and cheap watches and cameras, from a small glass stall in the famous thoroughfare. Falah is in a wheelchair and he explains that he's semi-paralysed as a result of being caught in a bomb blast in September 2007. The explosion killed a colleague in a shop he owned.

"I sold mobile phones but Al Queda told me I must stop as it was a 'western' practice. I refused…so they bombed my shop," he said.

Falah showed me a holiday snap taken on a beach in Dubai, a vacation taken before the 2003 conflict started. In the photograph he stands on the shore, barefoot in beach shorts with his arm round a friend. The men beam smiles at the camera. It's a moment in his life far removed from what he endures now in Damascus. Aside from being unable to walk, Falah explained that he has no control over his bowel movements. He added that a specialist in Ukraine could operate to help his condition and showed me the letter which states the operation would cost $17,000, plus $4000 for 45 days in rehab following surgery. He says he will never be able to afford this sum of money.

In fact, Falah holds out little hope he will ever lead any type of normal life again – but he hopes life will not be so cruel to his 11-year-old son, Mohaiman, who helps on his stall.

I ask if it would be safe for his family to return to Iraq.

"No, all of Iraq is too dangerous," he replied.


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