Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2011 Sees Second Most Refugee Returns Since 2003 Invasion Of Iraq


2011 saw the second most refugee returns to Iraq since the 2003 invasion. There were already hundreds of thousands of refugees inside and out of the country due to the previous regime’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds, and the suppression of the Shiite uprising following the 1991 Gulf War. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the subsequent insurgency and civil war, set off a new wave of displacement in the country, adding one to two more million refugees. Since the sectarian war ended in 2008 however, more and more Iraqis have been making the trip back.

The number of Iraqis returning has gone up and down over the last eight years. In 2003, an estimated 55,429 refugees came back to Iraq according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The following year saw the most returns so far at 291,997. Around 98,000 were internally displaced, and 193,997 were refugees. After that, the numbers began to go down until hitting a low in 2007. In 2005, 154,155 came back. That went up a little to 170,235 in 2006, before going way down to 81,420 in 2007. The next two years saw a large increase at 221,260 in 2008, and 204,830 in 2009. In 2010, there was a drop to 118,890. Then last year, there was another large jump to 260,690. 193,610 of those were internally displaced. In total, from 2003-2008 1,558,906 Iraqis returned. 1,031,720, 66% were displaced, while 527,186 were refugees. The UNHCR speculated that the improvement in security, and an increase in government aid offered to returnees were the two main reasons why Iraqis came back. If that were true however, there should have been a steady number of people coming back from 2008 to 2011. Instead, there was a large drop in 2010 compared to the other three years. The United Nations believed that was due to uncertainty over the country's future during parliamentary elections that were held that year. The unrest in the Middle East was likely a motivating factor as 2011 saw the second highest number of refugees coming back since 2004. The numbers bore that out with the UNHCR recording 28,230 Iraqis making the trip from Syria in 2011, compared to 29,135 from 2009-2010. 985 Iraqis also came back from Libya, compared to around 400 from 2009-2010. With Syria on the verge of civil war, returns should continue at a high rate going into 2012 as well.

Iraqi Displaced And Refugee Returns 2003-2011

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
193,610
67,080
260,690

1,031,720
527,186
1,558,906

Monthly Returns 2011

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
Jul.
14,360
4,850
19,210
Aug.
33,130
10,750
43,880
Sep.
23,660
7,220
30,880
Oct.
25,770
8,630
34,400
Nov.
20,140
5,260
25,400
Dec.
22,940
6,960
29,900
2011
193,610
67,080
260,690

During 2011, the rate of return steadily climbed from the beginning of the year until the middle, when it hit a plateau. From January to March, from 6,170 to 8,870 Iraqis came back. Then the numbers began to increase from 13,500 in April, to 21,400 in May, then leveling off before hitting a yearly high at 43,880 in August. After that 20,000-30,000 returned each month for the rest of 2011. Baghdad was the main destination for these people with around 150,400 returnees. That was followed by 53,790 coming back to Diyala, 7,880 to Najaf, 7,470 to Basra, and 7,290 to Karbala to finish off the top five provinces. The increase in 2011 was due to both internally displaced and refugees returning in the second half of the year.

2011 Returns By Province
Province
Returns
Baghdad
150,400
Diyala
53,790
Najaf
7,880
Basra
7,470
Karbala
7,290
Babil
5,910
Anbar
4,890
Maysan
4,550
Wasit
3,970
Ninewa
3,400
Dhi Qar
3,130
Salahaddin
2,820
Tamim
1,820
Qadisiyah
1,410
Muthanna
1,110
Irbil
650
Dohuk
120
Sulaymaniya
80

Despite 1.5 million people returning, there were still almost the same number registered as refugees. In August 2011, there were 1,258,934 internally displaced registered with the Iraqi government. There were another 168,765 refugees counted by the United Nations in Syria, 101,904, Jordan, 33,677, Turkey, 10,712, Lebanon, 9,246, Egypt, 7,527, Iran, 3,512, and the Gulf States, 2,186. That’s no where near the total for Iraqi refugees, as many have been living abroad for five to seven years now. Many have gotten jobs, and started over, and no longer need to go to the United Nations for aid and assistance. The figure for the displaced, is probably much closer to the actual figure. That showed that there are still a large number of people suffering from the Iraq conflict both within and without the country.

Internal Refugees Registered With Iraqi Ministry of Displacement August 2011
Province
Displaced
Baghdad
303,394
Ninewa
178,314
Diyala
114,423
Dohuk
84,402
Anbar
51,514
Wasit
50,907
Karbala
50,310
Babil
50,300
Dhi Qar
48,253
Tamim
46,694
Salahaddin
45,672
Maysan
38,130
Basra
35,058
Qadisiyah
22,652
In other 4 provinces
11,807
TOTAL
1,258,934

Iraqi Refugees Registered With U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees By Country
Country
Refugees
Syria
101,904
Jordan
33,677
Turkey
10,712
Lebanon
9,246
Egypt
7,527
Iran
3,512
Gulf States
2,186
TOTAL
168,764

The displacement of Iraqis is largely over. There are occasional attacks, that drive people from their homes, but it is nothing like what was seen during the civil war period from 2005-2008. Now, more and more Iraqis are coming back. That has not been at a steady rate as the last three years have shown. The unrest in the Middle East appeared to be an impetus for more refugees coming back last year than the year before. Improved security is also providing a push for internally displaced. Despite 1.5 million coming back, there are still an estimated 2 million who are not living in their original homes. Many of those have decided to settle where they live, either abroad or within Iraq. The displaced are still facing difficulties with that transition, leading to so many to register with the Ministry of Displacement seeking aid. The plight of refugees appears a little better off as only around 168,000 are still going to the United Nations for assistance. Many more have apparently moved on with their lives in other countries. Iraq was suffering from a large refugee problem before 2003 due to the policies of Saddam Hussein. His fall from power only added more people to that mix. For the last couple years at least, it appears that large numbers of Iraqis are deciding to reverse that trend and comeback to their country.

SOURCES

Rao, Prashant, “Lack of Iraq govt hurting security and refugee returns,” Agence France Pressure, 9/29/10

UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – December 2011,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, February 2012

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