Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Refugee Returns To Iraq Pick Up In First Half Of 2011


Iraq has one of the largest displaced populations in the world. Iraqis were forced from their homes in three waves. First, Saddam went after the Kurds and Shiites who rebelled against his regime from the 1970s-1990s. Second, after the U.S. invasion, the fighting and insurgency forced out hundreds of thousands. Then, when the sectarian civil war started, around 1 million people either moved to different parts of the country or fled Iraq all together. For international and non-government organizations working there, February 2006 when the Samarra shrine was blown up in Salahaddin marks the date for the start of the last wave of displacement. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 1,343,568 people lost their homes after that date. At the same time, since 2003 the United Nations speculates that around 1,375,236 Iraqis have returned. In June 2011, the UNHCR released its latest report on Iraqis coming back, which showed that the numbers have gone up this year compared to last. 

Returns to Iraq 2003-2011
Period
Displaced
Refugees
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
2011
53,610
23,410
77,020


Returns have increased in the last year and a half. In 2010, 118,890 people made the trip back, consisting of 92,480 displaced, and 26,410 refugees. In the first six months of 2011, 77,020 have come back. That was made up of 53,610 displaced and 23,410 refugees. The numbers have also been increased as the year has progressed. In January for example, 3,360 displaced and 3,040 refugees for a total of 6,400 Iraqis came back. By June, that had gone up to 16,400 displaced, and 4,240 refugees, a combined 20,640 people. If that rate were to continue more than 154,000 Iraqis would return this year, approximately 36,000 more than 2010.

Returns to Iraq Jan.-Jun. 2011
Period
Displaced
Refugees
Total
Jan.
3,360
3,040
6,400
Feb.
2,910
3,260
6,170
Mar.
4,300
4,570
8,870
Apr.
9,820
3,680
13,500
May
16,820
4,620
21,440
Jun.
16,400
4,240
20,640
Total
53,610
23,410
77,020


The reason for the uptick in returns is multi-faceted. First, unrest in neighboring Syria, which has taken in more Iraqi refugees than any other country, has driven 12,590 Iraqis from there in the first six months of this year, the most of any nation according to the UNHCR. Press reports have said that the Syrian opposition has targeted Iraqi refugees, claiming that they are supporters of the Syrian regime. Other regional countries that have seen protests have not had half as many people come back, with 905 from Egypt, 418 from Libya, and 283 from Yemen. Second, Sweden, and other European countries in the last year or so have turned against Iraqi refugees, and have tried to forcibly return some. That policy is probably the reason why 1,515 Iraqis came back from that country in the first six months of the year. Other European countries like England, the Netherlands, and Norway have also signed agreements with the Iraqi government to send back Iraqis who failed to gain asylum. 658 came back from England, 550 from the Netherlands, and 42 from Norway. A third factor is that Iraq has become more stable in the last couple years. There is still daily violence, but it is more targeted and political in nature, meaning that many Iraqis no longer personally face it on a day-to-day basis. That has been a major pull for internally displaced Iraqis to decide to try to go back to their homes, or at least their original provinces. Finally, some Iraqis have been away from home for years, and fled under duress because of the fighting. Many of those have struggled to restart new lives in their host countries, and are now returning to Iraq for financial reasons.

Returns to Iraq are not uniform, and tend to be concentrated in just a few provinces. Baghdad, which has the largest population, and has been at the center of fighting since 2003, has always received the most people coming back. From January to June 2011, 70,250 people went back to the capital governorate. Second was Diyala at 25,130. After that the numbers dropped considerably to 4,780 in Karbala and 2,090 in Maysan. Most displaced and refugees go back to Baghdad, but after that they tend to return to different areas. For refugees, 11,170 went back to Baghdad, followed by 6,700 to Najaf, 4,780 to Karbala, and 2,090 to Maysan. In comparison, 59,080 displaced returned to Baghdad, 24,000 to Diyala, 1,820 to Babil, 1,750 to Basra, and 1,010 to Salahaddin.

Returns By Province July 2010 to June 2011
Baghdad 70,250
Diyala 25,130
Najaf 6,770
Karbala 4,810
Babil 3,010
Wasit 2,430
Basra 2,300
Maysan 2,100
Anbar 1,480
Salahaddin 1,430
Qadisiyah 1,160
Dhi Qar 1,040
Irbil 990
Taim 830
Muthanna 340
Dohuk 180
Sulaymaniya 90
TOTAL 125,390

Top 5 Provinces Refugees Returned To July 2010 to June 2011
Baghdad 11,170
Najaf 6,770
Karbala 4,780
Maysan 2,090
Wasit 1,490

Top 5 Provinces Displaced Returned To July 2010 to June 2011
Baghdad 59,080
Diyala 24,000
Babil 1,820
Basra 1,750
Salahaddin 1,010

The biggest problem for people returning to Iraq is the lack of assistance. The Iraqi government has announced plans to help those wishing to come back since 2008, but these programs have run into considerable problems. The efforts have lacked coordination, have targeted squatters, many of which are displaced, has not adequately dealt with the various forms of compensation people need to deal with the losses they have faced, has not distributed the promised aid effectively, and has set too ambitious goals. In 2011 for example, the Minister of Displacement and Migration announced a new policy, which hoped to end the refugee problem in four years. Few believe that’s possible with the bureaucratic, red tape, and financial problems the Iraqi government faces. That means many Iraqis have to rely upon the United Nations and non-government organizations such as the International Organization for Migration. These groups have been working in Iraq for years, but do not have the resources to deal with the large populations involved with this problem. 

Earlier in 2011 it looked like the number of Iraqis coming back had stagnated. In the last few months there has been a considerable upsurge however, which makes it look like more people will return this year than last. This is still not up to the numbers seen in 2008 and 2009 when over 200,000 returns were recorded annually, but the figures are encouraging. The problem as ever is what will these people face when they go back. The lack of government and outside support is limited, and the job, housing, and service situation within Iraq is poor. It will take years until this problem is finally resolved, and a large number of Iraqis will likely never go back. What’s important is that they are able to restart their lives after the trauma they faced of losing their homes. Unfortunately, for many refugees that continues to be a struggle whether they are inside or outside of Iraq.

SOURCES 

Arango, Tim, “Despite Its Turmoil, Syria Still Looks Like an Oasis to Iraqis,” New York Times, 7/28/11


Arraf, Jane, “Refugees forced back to a still-violent Iraq, prompting criticism of European policy,” Christian Science Monitor, 2/7/11

Davis, Aaron, “U.N. preparing for Iraqis to flee Syria,” Washington Post, 5/12/11

Norwegian Refugee Council, “Iraq: IDPs and their prospects for durable solutions,” 6/28-30/11

UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – June 2011,” UNHCR, June 2011

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