Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Many Iraqi Refugees Have Returned?



In June 2009 the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its latest report on the return of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced. The numbers show that the rate of return has gone up and down since the 2003 invasion, largely connected to the security situation within Iraq. Of Iraq's estimated 4.6 million refugees, roughly a third have returned so far. Many are going back to areas where their group is predominate, changing the demographics of the country. If current trends continue, fewer Iraqis will come back in 2009 compared to 2008, which poses the questions of what will be the plight of those that don't go back.

Iraq has faced three waves of displacement in recent history. First Saddam used the removal of populations against his domestic Shiite and Kurdish opponents. Over 1 million Iraqis lost their homes before 2003 as a result. The U.S. invasion and the subsequent fighting led to another 200,000 displaced from 2003-2005. The bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra in 2006 led to over 1.6 million more. Another two million Iraqis have also become refugees during this time.

The UNHCR numbers show that immediately after the U.S. invasion in 2003 Iraqis began coming home. In 2003 55,249 refugees came back, but no displaced did. 2004 saw the largest total returns to date with 291,997 displaced and refugees making the trip. With the insurgency and the sectarian war taking off the number of returns slowed down by 2007. In 2005 154,155 came back, followed by 170,235 in 2006, but then only 81,420 in 2007. With the improved security, returns jumped back up in 2008. Most of those, 195,890, have been internally displaced compared to only 25,370 refugees. In the first five months of 2009 this trend has continued, 64,450 displaced and 18,630 refugees, but with fewer people overall, 83,080 up to May 2009 compared to 221,260 total in 2008. Overall, 61% of those coming back since the invasion have been displaced Iraqis.

The UNHCR counts 1,057,576 as a rough estimate of the total number of returns since 2003. That would mean about 37% of Iraq's displaced and refugees have gone back. 501,581 came back before the Samarra bombing in 2006, 47.4% of the total, while 555,995, 52.6%, have returned afterwards.

Iraqi Returns

Time

Displaced – Individuals

Refugees – Individuals

Total

%

2003

0

55,249

55,429

5%

2004

98,000

193,997

291,997

28%

2005

98,000

56,155

154,155

15%

2006

150,000

20,235

170,235

16%

2007

36,000

45,420

81,420

8%

2008

195,890

25,370

221,260

21%

Jan. 09

6,390

1,130

7,520


Feb. 09

15,810

2,970

18,780


March 09

20,690

5,850

26,540


April 09

11,020

3,890

14,910


May 09

10,540

4,790

15,330


Total 09

64,450

18,630

83,080

8%

Total

642,340

61%

415,236

39%

1,057,576

100%

Most of the fighting and ethnic cleansing during the sectarian war occurred in Baghdad and Diyala with its mixed Sunni-Shiite populations. Those two provinces have seen the largest number of people coming back in 2009. Baghdad saw 51% of returns and Diyala 34%. The next province was Ninewa with only 3%. When broken down between refugees and displaced, however, a new pattern emerges. Baghdad still received the most refugees coming back with 55%, but Najaf was second with 11%, followed by Diyala with 7% and Karbala with 6%. The displaced have mostly gone back to Baghdad, 51% and Diyala 42%.


Refugees and Displaced Returns By Province – Individuals 2009

Province

Jan. 09

Feb. 09

March 09

April 09

May 09

Total 09

%

Anbar

0

0

40

20

340

400

0%

Babil

210

190

460

400

290

1,550

2%

Baghdad

2,000

7,550

12,670

10,230

10,330

42,780

51%

Basra

340

130

450

120

80

1,120

1%

Dohuk

0

0

40

10

10

60

0%

Dhi Qar

20

30

180

100

20

350

0%

Diyala

3,420

9,040

10,120

2,650

2,980

28,210

34%

Irbil

20

20

50

0

60

150

0%

Karbala

90

80

240

280

380

1,070

1%

Maysan

70

40

70

100

80

360

0%

Muthanna

20

0

110

30

10

170

0%

Najaf

370

510

120

580

380

1,960

2%

Ninewa

590

680

1,150

30

30

2,480

3%

Qadisiyah

20

40

280

90

10

440

1%

Salahaddin

10

40

40

80

90

260

0%

Sulaymaniya

0

0

0

0

030

30

0%

Tamim

0

180

230

160

100

670

1%

Wasit

340

250

290

30

110

1,020

1%

TOTAL

7,520

18,780

26,540

14,910

15,330

83,080

100%


9%

23%

32%

18%

18%

100%


Refugee Returns By Province – Individuals 2009

Province

Jan. 09

Feb. 09

March 09

April 09

May 09

Total 09

%

Anbar

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Babil

110

160

250

290

120

930

5%

Baghdad

0

1,340

3,330

2,140

3,420

10,230

55%

Basra

220

90

140

90

50

590

3%

Dohuk

0

0

40

10

10

60

0%

Dhi Qar

10

30

180

100

20

340

2%

Diyala

120

400

760

70

0

1,350

7%

Irbil

20

20

30

0

50

120

1%

Karbala

90

80

240

270

360

1,040

6%

Maysan

60

30

60

90

60

300

2%

Muthanna

20

0

110

30

10

170

1%

Najaf

370

510

120

580

380

1,960

11%

Ninewa

0

0

0

0

20

20

0%

Qadisiyah

20

40

280

90

10

440

2%

Salahaddin

0

20

20

0

40

80

0%

Sulaymaniya

0

0

0

0

30

30

0%

Tamim

0

180

220

130

100

630

3%

Wasit

90

70

70

0

110

340

2%

TOTAL

1,130

2,970

5,850

3,890

4,790

18,630

100%


6%

16%

31%

21%

26%

100%


Displaced Returns By Province – Individuals 2009

Province

Jan. 09

Feb. 09

March 09

April 09

May 09

Total 09

%

Anbar

0

0

40

20

340

400

1%

Babil

100

30

210

110

170

620

1%

Baghdad

2,000

6,210

9,340

8,090

6,910

32,550

51%

Basra

120

40

310

30

30

530

1%

Dohuk

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Dhi Qar

10

0

0

0

0

10

0%

Diyala

3,300

8,640

9,360

2,580

2,980

26,860

42%

Irbil

0

0

020

0

10

30

0%

Karbala

0

0

0

10

20

30

0%

Maysan

10

10

10

10

20

60

0%

Muthanna

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Najaf

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Ninewa

590

680

1,150

30

10

2,460

4%

Qadisiyah

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Salahaddin

10

20

20

80

50

180

0%

Sulaymaniya

0

0

0

0

0

0

0%

Tamim

0

0

10

30

0

40

0%

Wasit

250

180

220

30

0

680

1%

TOTAL

6,390

15,810

20,690

11,020

10,540

64,450

100%


10%

24%

32%

17%

16%

100%


Within Baghdad, returning Iraqis have been unevenly distributed. The central district of Karkh has seen the most returns with 23,630. After that the western district of Kadamiya 5,450, and the northern district of Adhamiya, 5,320, were next. All three were battlefields in the sectarian war. Adhamiya was a mixed Sunni-Shiite area with a Sunni majority in northwestern Baghdad next to Sadr City. Karkh was in the middle with a largely mixed Sunni-Shiite population, and Kadamiya was a Shiite area in mostly Sunni western Baghdad. The Mahdi Army for example, tried to expand into all three areas. Abu Ghraib in contrast, which is located in the west by the Baghdad International Airport, just outside of the capital, was mostly known for insurgent activity, and has only had 330 returns this year as a result. On the one hand it's good to see that the areas in Baghdad province that had the most intense fighting are seeing the largest returns, at the same time most reports say that families are largely returning to areas where their sect is predominate adding to the segregation of the area.

Iraqis have been returning to the country since 2003. The numbers coming back have gone up and down depending upon the security situation. 2004 saw the largest amount of people coming back, but most of the conversation today is about those that lost their homes during the sectarian fighting after the 2006 Samarra bombing. 2008 saw a huge increase in returns, but if this year's trend continues, fewer will come back in 2009. There are two major concerns about this process. First, over three and a half million Iraqis are still displaced even with violence dramatically down. Some are worried that these Iraqis will become permanent refugees similar to the Palestinians. Second, many of central and northern Iraq's cities use to be made up of mixed neighborhoods. The sectarian war created segregated areas, which are now being solidified by the pattern of returns. Both of these will have dramatic effects upon Iraq's society if they are continued.

SOURCES

Bigio, Jamille and Scott, Jen, "Internal Displacement in Iraq: The Process of Working Toward Durable Solutions," Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2009

International Crisis Group, "Iraq's Civil War, The Sadrists And The Surge," 2/7/08

UNHCR, "UNHCR Iraq Operation, Monthly Statistical Update on Return – May 2009," June 2009

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