Thursday, July 31, 2008

Government Refugee Policy At Work In Najaf and Diyala

This summer the Iraqi government announced a new refugee policy. The main goal is to return families to their homes through offering cash. There has been some early reporting on how it is being implemented in the southern province of Najaf and in Diyala in the east. In Diyala, only a few displaced families have returned because the security situation is too unstable, while in Najaf the government is cracking down on two refugee camps. Together they do not paint a positive picture of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s repatriation program.

Diyala province is one of the few places in Iraq that still has high levels of violence, which is negatively affecting refugees. The province has approximately 25,000 displaced families. That equals about 150,000 people. 600 families have come back, but only to Baquba, the provincial capitol. Lack of security is the main reason that more have not returned. In the capitol’s suburbs and rural areas there are still militants preventing people from going back to their homes. One non-governmental organization said that families had been threatened and one killed after returning. Agence France Presse reported on a Shiite family that returned to their mostly Sunni neighborhood in western Baquba, only to have their house bombed and another device found outside. Most families were forced to flee originally because of Kurdish designs to annex northern sections of the province, and the sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis that lasted from 2006-2007. Diyala’s provincial government is trying to help the displaced by offering money for damaged houses, 10 million dinars ($8,500) in the central urban region and seven million dinars ($6,000) in the country. Baghdad has also just launched a security operation there to try to secure the province.

In Najaf the provincial council is trying to make the displaced leave. They have begun at two of the few refugee camps in the country. At the al-Manathira camp the province’s Displacement and Migration Ministry said that it will provide aid to those families that want to return to their homes, while it will also be checking people’s papers to make sure they are not taking advantage of government services posing as displaced. The camp holds 231 families, approximately 1,400 people. When the camp heard of the government’s plans there was a protest because people were afraid they would be forced to return to their homes. The provincial council said they would only help people whose homes were in secure areas. The ministry is taking the opposite approach at the al-Manazra camp, which they are closing, telling all the occupants they need to go back to their home provinces. In total, Najaf has 6112 displaced families, roughly 42,784 individuals.

These two provinces highlight the problems the government will face with its refugee policy. In Diyala few have returned because the security situation is still unstable, while in Najaf they are trying to move people out of refugee camps, sometimes against their will. Currently there are 2.1 million internally displaced Iraqis. Many want to go back to their homes, but are unsure of what they will find when they go back such as in Diyala. Others have occupied their homes, and many areas have been ethnically cleansed, meaning if people leave the refugee camps in Najaf they might not have a place to go back to. The government wants to assist these people, but offering money and closing down refugee camps doesn’t seem to be the right approach. Other than getting people back to their areas, there doesn’t seem to be much else to Maliki’s plan. Iraq has the second worst refugee problem in the world, and it will take a much more comprehensive and long-term plan to solve it than what the government is now offering.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Ex-insurgents Want More Money, or Else,” 7/25/08

Alsumaria, “Najaf displaced families protest decision of closing refugees’ camp,” 7/30/08

International Crisis Group, “Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon,” 7/10/08

IRIN, “IRAQ: IDPs fear returning to their homes in Diyala Province,” 7/14/08
- “IRAQ: Najaf authorities to weed out bogus IDPs, official says,” 7/27/08

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