At the end of May 2009 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released its latest report on Iraq's displaced. They specifically are worried about the fate of the two million plus Iraqis that have not returned home yet. They note that while thousands of displaced have gone back to their original provinces, the vast majority have not. Both groups continue to face problems such as finding work and housing, and gaining access to services and assistance. The IOM is concerned that many of these Iraqis will become permanent refugees.
Since 2007 the IOM has noted that Iraqis displaced after the February 2006 Samarra bombing, which triggered the sectarian war, have begun to return. The IOM has counted 49,464 of these families, or 296,598 people, that have come back. Only 7%, of those, 3,443 families, were refugees. That is a small fraction of the estimated 1.6 million that lost their homes after the 2006 attack. They have gone back to 765 different locations in Iraq. 90% of the post-Samarra displaced came from Baghdad, Diyala and Ninewa, so it should be no surprise that those three provinces, plus Anbar have seen the most returns. Qadisiyah, Muthanna, and Dhi Qar had the least with 44, 64, and 108 families respectively. 61% of displaced families surveyed said they wanted to go home.
Post-Feb. 2006 Displaced And Refugee Family Returns (Not Including Kurdistan)
% That Are Refugee Families
A major factor in returning is the proximity of the displaced to their original homes. 68% of the families that came back resided within their home province. That compared to 21% that were in another province, and 11% that came back from another country. That varied however across each province. In Muthanna and Najaf for example, 100% of the returnees were refugees, while none of those that came back to Basra and Ninewa were in foreign nation beforehand.
Origins Of Returnees By Province
Displaced Within Same Province
Displaced In Another Province
Conditions in Iraq appeared to be another major reason why families come back. 36.7% of returnees interviewed by the IOM said that better security was the top cause for returning. That was followed by 35.7% that believed a combination of improved security and difficult conditions where they lived was the major factor. Only 15.5% felt that they left because of the hardships they were going through.
Reasons For Return
Reasons for Return
Improved security in home area
Improved security in home area and difficult conditions
Very difficult conditions
Government returnee payments
Improved security in home area, difficult conditions, returnee payments
Very difficult conditions and returnee payments
The majority of families feel safe after their returns, but there are still some troubling incidents. 59.6% of those polled by the IOM said they felt safe all of the time after going back, while 39.4% said they only felt safe some of the time. There are various anecdotal stories of attacks and threats against displaced. In the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad an IED targeted displaced. Eighteen families in Abu Ghraib came back, but couldn't stay in their homes and became displaced again. Two families from Diyala went back, but were attacked by a militia, which led to the death of two family members. They left the province again as a result. According to IraqSlogger, in Adhamiya, Baghdad, the Sons of Iraq put "X"s on the houses of Shiites that had been displaced telling them not to come back in April 2009. The state of their property is another issue for returnees. 49.1% said that their houses were in good condition, but 38.7% found some damage to them.
The government has also been actively encouraging Iraqis to come back. Baghdad offered $851 for families that did. The authorities have recently announced that they were no longer registering people anymore, which was a prerequisite to receive the money. Not many returnees signed up for this program in the first place, and the government paid even fewer. The IOM found that only 44% of those surveyed had applied for the money, and of those, only 36% said they got it.
For those still displaced, finding work, services, and aid are major problems. 50.4% of male-headed households were out of work, and 97.3% of female-led ones were. Overall, 35% of those surveyed said they could work, but couldn't find a job. Salahaddin, 75%, Muthanna 70%, and Babil, 64%, had the highest responses in that category. In total, 56% of the displaced are unemployed. 64.2% of those surveyed claimed they had six hours or less of electricity. 83.8% did say they had access to the national water system, but that doesn't mean that it is potable. Almost all of the displaced, 98%, said they had their food ration card, but their access varied. 32% said they regularly got their rations, 60% said it was irregular, and 8% said they never got them. Ninewa was the worst with 99% saying they got their rations infrequently. Getting health care also varied greatly from province to province. 90% or more in Anbar, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, Ninewa and Salahaddin said they had adequate access, while 57% of returnees in Baghdad, 65% in Basra, and 78% in Tamim claimed they had none. When asked what their greatest needs were, displaced families said food, 63%, fuel, 51%, and health care, 40% were the top priorities. 88% also said they had received no aid outside of the government.
Total: 44% employed, 56% unemployed
Male-headed household: 49.6% employed, 50.4% unemployed
Female-headed household: 2.7% employed, 97.3% unemployed
Overall the IOM is worried about what will happen to the millions of Iraqis that have lost their homes because of the war. Only a small fraction has returned, and those that haven't face a plethora of problems, most importantly finding work and food. Those that have come back also face a similar set of problems. Neither the government, nor non-government organizations such as the IOM have the resources to deal with such a large population. The fear is that many of them will simply have to fend for themselves, perhaps creating a permanent class of displaced both within and without of Iraq for the foreseeable future.
International Organization for Migration, "IOM Emergency Needs Assessments; Post February 2006 Displacement In Iraq, Monthly Report," 4/1/09
- "IOM Monitoring And Needs Assessments of Iraqi Return, May 2009," May 2009
Smith, Daniel and al-Timimi, Yousif, "Residents: Some Sahwa Still Keeping Shi'a Out," IraqSlogger.com, 4/21/09