Monday, September 2, 2013

Refugee Returns Drop As Violence Increases In Iraq


The recent increase in violence is having widespread repercussions throughout not only Iraq, but the region as well. One example is the number of people returning to their homes who have been displaced either domestically or to other nations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a large increase in Iraqis coming back from 2011-2012. Those numbers have seen a dramatic drop in the first quarter of 2013. Displaced Iraqis have only gone back when they feel safe. The current security situation means that not only will that not happen, but more people may be forced out as the insurgency and government counter operations increase.

If current trends continue, the number of refugees returning to their homes in Iraq in 2013 will be around half the rate of last year. For the first three months of the year, the UNHCR reported 12,970 internally displaced and 18,850 refugees for a total of 31,820 people coming back. Projected out for the rest of the year that would be approximately 127,000 people making the return trip. In comparison, 301,060 Iraqis came back in 2012. The number of Iraqi refugees who have felt comfortable re-integrating with their original places of residence has been directly related to their perceptions of the political and security situation within the country. With the insurgency taking off again, there’s little reason for many of them to make the trip back right now.

Iraq Refugee Returns 2003-2013
Year
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
2012
218,800
82,260
301,060
Jan.-Mar.
2013
12,970
18,850
31,820
TOTALS
1,263,490
625,296
1,891,786

This continues the trend of returns going up and down depending upon the situation within Iraq. From 2004-2006 large numbers of people felt safe enough to come back. It went from 55,429 in 2003 to suddenly 291,997 in 2004, before taking a slight dip to 154,155 in 2005, and 170,235 in 2006, because of the increasing violence. By 2007, the numbers were down to just 81,420 in 2007 due to the civil war. When that ended the statistics went right back up to 221,260 in 2008 and 204,830 in 2009. In 2010, Iraq had parliamentary elections, and took months to form a new government as Premier Maliki battled with the Iraqi National Movement for the right to create a ruling coalition. That uncertainty led to a drop to 118,890 returns that year. After that process was finished the numbers went right back up to 260,690 in 2011 and 301,060 in 2012. All together, that totaled 1,859,966 returns from 2003-2012, 1,250,520 of which were internally displaced, and 609,446 were refugees. The most common figure for Iraq’s refugees is around 2 million. However, because of exaggerations by some host countries, a more realistic number is approximately 1.1 million. There are another 2.7 million internal refugees as well. That means just around half of Iraq’s refugees and just under 50% of its displaced have made it home in the last ten years.

Iraq Returns Per Month Jan. 2012-Mar. 2013
Month
Refugees
Displaced
Totals
Jan. 2012
7,440
22,240
29,680
Feb.
7,910
25,040
29,950
Mar.
6,590
20,950
27,540
Apr.
8,330
25,610
33,940
May
6,370
24,220
30,590
Jun.
3,010
15,550
18,560
Jul.
4,300
24,120
28,420
Aug.
8,830
15,390
24,220
Sep.
10,260
18,560
53,040
Oct.
7,100
11,990
19,090
Nov.
6,360
9,000
15,360
Dec.
5,760
6,130
11,890
Jan. 2013
5,760
3,500
9,260
Feb.
6,450
6,000
12,450
Mar.
6,640
3,470
10,110

Since the fall of 2012 the number of Iraqis going back has seen a steady decline. Refugee returns for last year peaked in September at 10,260 then leveled off from October to March 2013 to around 6,500 per month. The number of internal refugees coming back home has witnessed a more dramatic drop since July 2012. They went from over 20,000 per month from January to May 2012 to around 11,000-15,000 from June to October, to finally hitting just 3,000-6,000 per month from January to March 2013. Refugee returns have remained high largely because of the conflict in Syria. In 2011, the Iraqi government registered 28,230 Iraqis coming back from that country compared to just 29,135 for 2009 and 2010 combined. The high numbers have continued into 2013 with 14,080 coming back from Syria for the first three months of the year, which was 74% of all refugees for that period. If those figures kept up more than 56,000 Iraqis would return from Syria for the year, a massive jump. That’s driven by the increasing violence due to the civil war there, which is driving more and more Iraqis out. In comparison, many internally displaced are currently afraid to go home, because of the security situation in Iraq. Since 2003, around 2/3 of the returning refugees have been displaced, so their current fears about the future of their country are bringing down the overall numbers.

The rebirth of Iraq’s insurgency is having far reaching effects. It is reversing the recent trend of tens of thousands of displaced making the decision to try to rebuild their lives in their home provinces. The violence next door in Syria however is keeping up a steady pace of Iraqis fleeing from there. When comparing the violence people must be seeing the fragmentation of Syria as being much more of a threat to their lives than the bombings and attacks happening back in Iraq. Still, since most returns in recent years have been the displaced the instability is reducing the totals. This is very unfortunate since Iraq seemed like it was turning the corner with its refugee problem. Over half of its displaced and refugee population had made it back home, and the numbers were going up as it seemed like the insurgency was finished. That’s all changed now. There are already reports of people being newly displaced in provinces with increased militant activity. The result is that more people are going to have to suffer.

SOURCES

CNN, “U.N. calls for ‘beginning of end’ for Iraqi refugees’ struggle,” 1/24/11

Government Accountability Office, “Displaced Iraqis Integrated International Strategy Needed to Reintegrate Iraq’s Internally Displaced and Returning Refugees,” December 2010

International Organization for Migration, “IOM Emergency Needs Assessments Four Years of Post-Samarra Displacement In Iraq,” 4/13/10

UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return-March 2013,” May 2013

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