Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Iraq's Displaced – 3 Years After The Samarra Bombing

There are around 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis. This crisis has gone through three major phases. First Saddam was responsible for one million Iraqis losing their homes largely due to his campaigns against the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. From 2003-2005 200,000 more were displaced due to the U.S. invasion and the following operations against the insurgency and Shiite militias. Then on February 22, 2006 the Shiite shrine at Samarra was bombed, which set off the sectarian war that lasted until 2007. As a result, 1.6 million Iraqis became internal refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the premier refugee organization in Iraq. It has polled and assisted 80% of those that were displaced after the Samarra shrine was blown up. Recently the IOM released a report on the state of these internal refugees on the three-year anniversary of the attack. It found that the process of return has begun, but the vast majority have still not gone back to their homes. Fortunately there has been little new displacement recently. Those that have still not returned are facing increasing problems finding jobs, shelter, and sustenance. The government has not been able to adequately deal with this situation, and the amount of foreign aid has not been adequate either. The IOM warns that Iraq's internal refugees are facing an increasingly uncertain future as a result.

History Of Displacement

2006 saw the largest number of Iraqis lose their homes, but that process has slowed since then. After the February 2006 bombing 5.5% of Iraqis became displaced. On average 14,152 families left their homes a month in 2006. From January to June 2007 that slowed to 8,033 families per month, dropping to 2,269 per month from July to September 2007, and finally 866 a month for the last quarter of the year. By 2008 378 families were losing their homes a month. That went down to almost zero by June 2008. In October the Christian community in Mosul was attacked, with twelve killed. That led to 2,465 families to flee. That process has begun to be reversed.

Displacement By Period


Period

Average number of displaced families per month

Percent of total displaced beginning in 2006

2006

14,152

70.3%

January – June 2007

8,033

23.0%

July – September 2007

2,269

3.3%

October – December 2007

866

1.2%

2008

378

2.2%


Displacement in Iraq also followed certain patterns shaped by the fighting. 57% of the internal refugees are Shiite, 31% are Sunni, 5% are Christians, 4% are Sunni Kurds, and 3% are other. During the sectarian war Shiites left Baghdad and Diyala and fled south. Sunnis on the other hand, exited Baghdad and the south for the north and west. For example, the majority of Iraqis that fled Basra were Sunnis, while most of the displaced there are Shiites from Baghdad. In Anbar almost 100% of the displaced are Sunnis, while 60% that left were Shiites. Almost all of the displaced in Karbala, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, Dhi Qar, and Wasit are Shiites from Baghdad and Diyala. Christians and Kurds went north to Ninewa, Tamim, Diyala and Kurdistan. In comparison, the majority of Iraq's refugees that have left the country are Sunnis.

Returns

The issue of return is the newest one facing Iraq's displaced. Based upon its work, the IOM believes that the majority of Iraq's internal refugees want to go back to their homes if security improvements hold. They found that around 130,000 families, 61%, want to go back to their original residences, 45,000 families, 22%, would like to settle where they are, while 35,000, 17%, want to leave and relocate in another country. Already the IOM has identified 49,432 families, around 296,592 people, have returned. 69% of those were displaced within their home province, 20% came back from a different one, and 11% returned from a foreign country. Of that last group most were in Syria and went back to Anbar and Baghdad. The first returns were recorded in April 2007 in the Madain, Abu Ghraib and Taji districts of Baghdad. Since then the numbers coming back have increased, with 31,521 families going back to the capital. Interviews with almost 3,000 of them found that 36% came back because of better security in their communities, and 36% said it was a combination of that plus hardships.

Returning Families By Province


Baghdad

31,521

Diyala

8,818

Anbar

4,542

Ninewa

1,536

Tamim

627

Maysan

626

Basra

493

Other

1,269


That still leaves 273,243 families as internal refugees. Baghdad province has the most, 90,732 families, followed by Diyala, 22,784 families, Ninewa, 19,100, and Dohuk, 18,706. The majority came from just eight of Iraq's eighteen provinces. Baghdad provided the most, 64.3%, as it was the center of the sectarian war. Of those, opinions on return are different depending upon where they currently reside. Baghdad, Diyala, Najaf, Tamim, and Anbar have the highest numbers of those that want to go back to their homes. Most of those come from Baghdad and Diyala. In comparison, Basra, Wasit, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah have the most families that want to resettle there.

Location Of Displaced By Province


Location

Number of Families

% of Total

Iraq

273,243

100%

Baghdad

90,732

33%

Diyala

22,784

8%

Ninewa

19,100

7%

Dohuk

18,706

7%

Sulaymaniya

14,585

5%

Babil

12,677

5%

Wasit

12,306

5%

Karbala

10,921

4%

Irbil

10,304

4%

Anbar

9,179

3%

Tamim

7,911

3%

Salahaddin

7,790

3%

Dhi Qar

7,066

3%

Maysan

6,792

2%

Basra

5,989

2%

Qadisiyah

3,858

1%

Muthanna

2,457

1%


Origins Of Displaced


Province

Percentage

Baghdad

64.3%

Diyala

19.0%

Ninewa

6.0%

Salahaddin

3.2%

Anbar

2.6%

Tamim

1.8%

Basra

1.7%

Babil

0.9%

Other

0.5%


Another factor related to going back is the state of their property. Only 16% of the post-Samarra displaced had access to their homes. 43% have no accessibility, mostly because their residence has been occupied or destroyed. 38% don't know the status of their property.

The government has not been able to handle those that have returned. Families that go back are supposed to register with the authorities, making them eligible for 1 million dinars ($870). As of January 2009, only 12,969 families have signed up with the government. Most of those, approximately 9,100, are in Baghdad, followed by Diyala, 3,096, and Anbar, 522. That's only 26% of the returnees. Even though that's a small number, the IOM believes that the government is being overwhelmed dealing with them.

Needs

99% of Iraq's displaced have housing, but the quality varies greatly, and some are worried of losing it. 82% of Iraqi internal refugees surveyed by the IOM said housing was a concern. 59% of the internal refugees rent a house, but those costs are going up and many families are having a hard time earning money. 18% are living with family or friends. 22% are squatting or living in makeshift housing. Many of those feared for their future after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued Order 101 in 2008 that told the security forces to evict squatters. That was suspended for the January 2009 provincial elections, and there's no word if it will be re-enacted. The last 1% is living in camps. That usually only happens out of desperation.


IOM's polling shows that food, shelter, and work are also top needs. Those are followed by water, legal aid, and health care. Most Iraqis depend upon the government's food rations. 81% of the displaced surveyed said that they need greater access to food. 19% have no access to the food ration system, while 44% only receive them sometimes. Kurdistan, Basra, and Kirkuk have the spottiest access. In Dohuk for example, 90% do not receive their rations. Maysan, Karbala, Muthanna, Salahaddin, Dhi Qar, and Baghdad have the best distribution. Health care was a secondary concern with 16% saying it was a need. That's probably because 86% said they had access to some kind of aid, however that doesn't account for its quality. The health system has been greatly degraded since the U.S. invasion. Many doctors and nurses have left the country, and there is a shortage of equipment and medications.

Conclusion

In the end, the IOM believes that Iraq's displaced are facing a precarious situation. Three years after the Samarra bombing and the majority of the 1.6 million that lost their homes are still displaced. Some Iraqis have begun going back to their homes, but it is still a small percentage of the total, and the government has only been able to help a fraction of them. Those that are still refugees face problems finding work, housing, and food. The IOM has tried to help, but the amount of international aid has not met the needs. These problems will only grow as more time passes.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “150 displaced Christian families return to Mosul,” 2/10/09

International Organization for Migration, “Anbar, Baghdad & Diyala, Governorate Profiles,” December 2008
- “Three Years Of Post-Samarra Displacement In Iraq,” 2/22/09

Oweis, Khaled Yacoub, “Iraqi refugees in Syria reluctant to return,” Reuters, 2/12/09

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq Humanitarian Update,” October 2008

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2008,” December 2008

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