Thursday, February 3, 2011

U.N. Reports Number Of Iraqi Displaced/Refugee Returns Dropped By Almost 50% In 2010

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently released its end of the year report on returns to Iraq by refugees and displaced. The U.N. has been documenting this phenomenon since 2003. Consistent with earlier findings, the UNHCR noted that nearly two-thirds of those going back were internally displaced people, compared to refugees. In 2010 the number of individuals returning dropped by nearly 50% from the previous year.

Last year, a total of 118,890 Iraqis decided to return. That was made up of 92,480 displaced and 26,410 refugees. Within 2010 returns went up and down. March saw the highest number at 17,080, while December saw the fewest at 6,640. Compared to 2009, 85,940 less people made the trip back. Polling by the UNHCR in September 2010 of Iraqis living in Syria and Jordan found that political instability was the major cause for the slow down, followed by a lack of services, and security.

2010 Returns By Type
Month Displaced Refugees Total % 
Jan. 8,780 2,820 11,600 10% 
Feb. 7,320 2,160 9,480 8% 
Mar.  14,630 2,450 17,080 14% 
Apr. 6,600 2,130 8,730 7% 
May 9,100 2,610 11,710 10% 
Jun. 9,440 2,480 11,920 10% 
Jul. 7,230 1,740 8,970 8% 
Aug. 8,360 1,850 10,210 9% 
Sep. 6,880 1,290 8,170 7% 
Oct. 4,770 2,600 7,370 6% 
Nov. 4,950 2,060 7,010 6% 
Dec. 4,420 2,220 6,640 6% 
Total 92,480 26,410 118,890 100% 

Baghdad received half of the returnees. The capital province was the center of violence in the sectarian war so that should be no surprise. 59,510, 50% of the total for 2010, went back to Baghdad. That was followed by 37,560 going to Diyala, 32%, 3,340 to Qadisiyah, 3%, and 3,060, 3% to Ninewa. Sulaymaniya and Dohuk received the fewest with 80 and 180 respectively. Most, 10,926, came from Syria. After that 8,285 came from Iran, 3,480 from Jordan, 1,080 from Sweden, and 750 from Egypt to round off the top five.

2010 Returns by Province
Sulaymaniya 80
Dohuk 180
Anbar 310
Tamim 480
Muthanna 540
Wasit 710
Basra 780
Salahaddin 1,020
Irbil 1,440
Babil 1,600
Karbala 1,780
Dhi Qar 1,860
Maysan 2,190
Najaf 2,450
Ninewa 3,060
Qadisiyah 3,340
Diyala 37,560
Baghdad 59,510

2010 Iraqi Refugee Returns by Country
Syria 10,926
Iran 8,285
Jordan 3,480
Sweden 1,080
Egypt 750
USA 550
England 513
UAE 505
Others 304
Netherlands 295
Australia 230
Canada 195
Denmark 175
Germany 165
Lebanon 151
Norway 136
Libya 117
Yemen 113
Saudi Arabia 87
Turkey 87
Oman 65
Greece 29

Overall, the number of returns has also fluctuated in the last eight years. In 2003, 55,429 refugees returned. Those were almost all individuals who had fled Saddam Hussein's government. In 2004, that number went up to 291,997, the largest amount since the U.S. invasion. 193,997 were refugees, again, mostly exiles from the previous regime, along with approximately 98,000 displaced. The latter could be a mix of those that fled the fighting during the invasion, and those kicked out by Saddam. In 2005 154,155 came back, which then went up to 170,235 in 2006, before going down to the lowest number 81,420 in 2007. That presented a bit of an anomaly as the civil war started off in 2005, reached its highest point in 2006, and then began to finally subside in 2007. One would expect a big drop in returns by 2006, but that didn't happen until the next year. In 2008, violence was taking a large drop and returns jumped back up to 221,260, and then 204,830 in 2009. In 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010 displaced far outnumbered refugees.

Iraqi Returns 2003-2010
Year DisplacedRefugees Total 
2003 0 55,429 55,429 
2004 98,000 193,997 291,997 
2005 98,000 56,155 154,155 
2006 150,000 20,235 170,235 
2007 36,000 45,420 81,420 
2008 195,890 25,370 221,260 
2009 167,740 37,090 204,830 
2010 92,480 26,410 118,890 
Total 838,110460,106 1,298,216 

As the years have gone on, the number of refugees registered by the UNHCR in other countries has also dropped. In 2007, the U.N. had 73,524 Iraqis registered in the Middle East. That went up to 233,535 in 2008, 310,413 in 2009, and then took a huge drop to 194,239 in 2010. Last year, 124,890 of those signed up with the U.N. were from Baghdad. 84.1% identified themselves as Arab, followed by 7.0% as Chaldean, 2.8% as Assyrian Christian, 2.5% as other, 2.1% as Kurd, 0.8% as Turkmen, and 0.7% as Armenian. 26.2% fled in 2006, again, coinciding with violence in the country, followed by 20.1% before 2006, and 19.1% in 2007. 58.3% were Sunnis, 21.0% were Shiite, 12.4% were Christians, 2.8% were Sabean Mandeans, and 0.5% were Yazidis. Syria had the most Iraqi refugees at 136,354, followed by 31,476 in Jordan, 8,285 in Lebanon, 6,964 in Egypt, 5,876 in Turkey, 3,590 in Iran, and 1,694 in the Gulf states. Returns is not the only reason why the refugee population noted by the U.N. has gone down. Some have gone on to other countries, some have found a new life in the countries they now reside in and no longer register with the U.N., while another issue is a controversy over how many Iraqi refugees there were in the first place

Iraqi Refugees Registered With The United Nations 2007-2010
2007 73,524
2008 233,535
2009 310,413
2010 194,239

2010 U.N. Registered Refugees By Province of Origin
Sulaymaniya 208
Irbil 250
Dohuk 377
Maysan 599
Wasit 948
Qadisiyah 970
Muthanna 1,080
Babil 1,867
Najaf 1,888
Karbala 2,038
Dhi Qar 2,135
Tamim 2,413
Salahaddin 2,662
Diyala 4,739
Anbar 6,945
Basra 8,980
Ninewa 18,390
N/A 12,860
Baghdad 124,890

2010 U.N. Registered Refugees By Ethnicity
Armenian 1,376 0.7%
Turkmen 1,606 0.8%
Kurd 4,028 2.1%
Other 2,889 2.5%
Assyrian Christians 5,408 2.8%
Chaldean 13,588 7.0%
Arab 163,344 84.1%

2010 U.N. Registered Refugees Year Of Arrival
Pre-2006 39,004 20.1%
2006 50,976 26.2%
2007 37,184 19.1%
2008 16,868 8.7%
2009 23,133 11.9%
2010 27,074 13.9%

2010 U.N. Registered Refugees By Religion
Yazidi 876 0.5%
Other 2,203 1.1%
Sabean Mandean 5,397 2.8%
Muslim unspecified 7,729 4.0%
Christianity 24,097 12.4%
Shiite 40,772 21.0%
Sunni 113,165 58.3%

2010 Iraqi Refugees By Countries Registered In By U.N.
Gulf Countries 1,694
Iran 3,590
Turkey 5,876
Egypt 6,964
Lebanon 8,285
Jordan 31,476
Syria 136,354

The number of Iraqi refugees and displaced coming back may go slightly up this year with a new government finally in place in Baghdad, but overall the period of large returns is probably over. Many of those that want to come back have done so. As noted above, many refugees have gone on to new lives after having left, and therefore are unlikely to have a reason to come back anymore. The U.N. notes that up to 500,000 of the internally displaced live in harsh conditions, and may not have the means to return home. Others may want to integrate where they are. Still more can't go back because their houses were either destroyed or were taken over during the civil war. This will remain a major issue for Iraq no matter what choice Iraqis make, because they still need assistance to either move on with their lives, or try to rebuild the ones they lost.

SOURCES

CNN, "U.N. calls for 'beginning of end' for Iraqi refugees' struggle," 1/24/11

UNHCR, "Statistical Report on UNHCR Registered Iraqis," January 2010

UNHCR Iraq Operation, "Monthly Statistical Update on Return – December 2010," January 2010

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