The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted a survey of 2,535 Iraqis, or 537 families, who had returned to Baghdad’s Rusafa and Karkh districts between 2007-2008. They discussed insecurity, economic hardships, and the lack of services since coming back. For those reasons, almost two-thirds said they regretted returning to Iraq.
The UNHCR poll found great discontent amongst Iraqi returnees. 61% said they regretted going back to Iraq. 60% of that amount listed insecurity as the main reason why. 77% said they had not gone back to their original homes because of the lack of security and the fear of being persecuted. 11% listed poor economic conditions and unemployment as the reasons for not returning to their homes. Most of those that had not reclaimed their houses were now living with relatives, with the rest staying with friends or renting an apartment. Another major problem was finding employment since coming back. 87% said their current income was not enough to cover their needs. Many could not find steady work. That added with the lack of services increased returnees unhappiness.
As a result, 34% said they were not sure whether they would stay in Iraq. Many stated that they would seek asylum in another country if things didn’t improve within Iraq. Others claimed that they had only come back in the first place because they had run out of funds to live abroad.
The UNHCR poll is the latest bit of information documenting the difficult time Iraqi returnees have had since coming back. As of August 2010 the United Nations estimates that 1,269,026 Iraqis have returned since 2003. Of those, 451,936 were refugees coming back from neighboring countries. Their numbers have declined since 2009. One main reason may be the news that life in Iraq can still be difficult, especially for those that have fled the country. That’s especially true for Baghdad where the UNHCR survey was conducted. During the sectarian war of 2005-2007 the demographics of the city dramatically changed from a largely mixed city to one largely divided by sect. That’s probably a major reason why so many respondents in the UNHCR poll said they had not gone back to their actual houses despite being back in Iraq for the last two to three years. Finding steady work is another daily struggle. Jobs outside of the public sector are not secure, steady, nor do they pay well. Many lack the funds to do anything else but stick it out, but a third are considering leaving Iraq again.
Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq June 2010,” 9/7/10
UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – August 2010,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, September 2010
UNHCR News, “UNHCR poll: Iraqi refugees regret returning to Iraq, amid insecurity,” 10/19/10