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. 09Feb. 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
ProvinceJan. 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. 09Feb. 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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