At the end of February 2009 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its latest progress report on Iraq. This paper covers refugees, returns, prisoners, casualties, measles, and the plight of Iraq’s women.
The major issue in the second half of 2008 going into 2009 is the return of Iraq’s refugees. The numbers that have come back is still a small percentage of the total, estimated at over 4 million, but they are increasing. The vast majority is made up of internally displaced. In January 2009 the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration registered approximately 4,600 returnees. 3,590 of them were displaced, while 1,010 were refugees coming back from other countries. This was more than a 50% decrease from December 2008 when 11,910 Iraqis were recorded coming back. 9,820 were displaced and 2,090 were refugees. In January Baghdad saw the most returns with 44% of the total. All of them were displaced. Ninewa with 13%, Diyala with 11%, all displaced, and Najaf at 8%, which received a mix of displaced and refugees followed it. Most of the refugees, 370 of them, came from Iran. The province also accounted for 37% of refugee returns in that month. Most returnees from abroad came from Iran, the U.S., Syria, Jordan, and Sweden, in that descending order.
United Nations’ Estimates On Iraqi Returns – January 2009
Dhi Qar 10
Dhi Qar 10
The number of Iraqis that have returned is over 200,000. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 221,260 Iraqis returned in 2008. That was an average of 18,438 per month. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted around 296,592 people. The IOM said that 31,521 families went to Baghdad, 8,818 went to Diyala, and 4,542 returned to Anbar.
As reported before, the IOM has done extensive surveying of Iraq’s displaced. Their latest data from February found that 36% of returning Iraqis did so because of the improved security situation. Another 36% said they returned because of a combination of their hard living conditions and better security. 69% of returnees were displaced within their home province, 20% came back from another governorate, and 11% were refugees in another country.
To encourage Iraqis to come back, the government has been offering cash payments, which may now be ending. In January 2009 the Ministry of Displacement and Migration registered 12,969 returning families, who then became eligible for $870 from the government for coming back. The IOM thinks that the Ministry has registered only 26% of those that have returned. Only around 22,000 displaced families in total have received their money. The problem now is that the authorities have stopped signing up returnees. The government said that they had one year to register, and because of the improved security most displaced have gone back home. That’s obviously not true, and puts the whole motivation behind the payments in question. Has the government run out of funds, was it simply a publicity stunt, or just meant to create an incentive to get the process of return going? Whatever is the answer, on February 12 the Ministry stopped registering the displaced. Some provinces had stopped doing so earlier. Tamim for example ceased registration on February 2, and Kurdistan stopped on January 1. The Ministry is now supposed to focus upon monitoring those that have already gone back rather than those that are still in the process of doing so or considering it.
25% of the displaced say housing is their greatest concern. 59% of those surveyed by the IOM said they are renting, 22% said they live in a collective settlement or are squatting, 18% live with another family, and 1% are in tents. Rents are also going up, placing a financial strain on the displaced. The reason why many have not gone back is because they can’t go to their homes. Only 16% of the displaced since February 2006 have access to their houses. 38% said they don’t know if they can go back. 39% said they don’t want to go back. Of those 22% said they want to stay where they are, and 17% would like to move to another country. That still means the vast majority however, 61%, would like to go back some time.
The displaced also lack basic services. 19% of those displaced since February 2006 say they don’t have access to the government’s food ration system. 44% said they only have periodic access. The displaced also lack jobs, electricity, and health care.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement the U.S. is in the process of transferring all of its prisoners to Iraqi control or setting them free. The U.S. military said they are releasing around 50 prisoners a day since the beginning of January 2009. That has caused a decrease in the number they hold from around 26,000 in 2007 to approximately 14,000 in 2008. Others are being handed over to the Iraqi authorities.
Violence in Iraq has seen a steady decline. The number of casualties in February 2009 was lower than in the previous month. In February an average of 5 civilians were killed per day. That was down from an average of 13 per day in 2008. The number of civilians killed dropped from 192 in January to 164 in February. The number of wounded also declined from 591 in January to 516 in February. February’s numbers did not include 48 bodies found in the streets and six government officials killed. That meant in total 395 people died in that month. The majority of the casualties happened during the Arba’een religious ceremony where there were several attacks costing the lives of at least 84 people. According to the U.N. 11,230 people were killed in 2008, 4,663 of which were civilians, and 18,251 were wounded, including 12,660 civilians.
As recently reported here, a measles epidemic began in 2008, and is now getting worse. The Ministry of Health reports that that there are cases in 13 of Iraq’s 19 provinces. Last year there were a total of 8,134 cases, but in the first nine months of 2009 there have already been 8,411 more. Children are the most vulnerable, and the movement of people with the improved security has helped spread the disease. Many kids have not been vaccinated over the last several years as well because of the security situation, which has made the situation worse. Measles is now spreading north to Sulaymaniya, Irbil and Dohuk, and south to Najaf and Maysan. This is putting up to 800,000 children at risk.
In 2009 the U.N. is trying to focus upon the country’s women. The U.N. is worried that the violence and war has severely set back their status. Women are more likely to end up poor, be unemployed, and lack food, and other basic necessities. 1 in 10 families are headed by women, and 80% of those are widows, having lost their husbands to the fighting. Only 17% of women have jobs or are looking for them compared to 81% of men. Illiteracy is also high, affecting 24% of women over 10 years old compared to 11% for men. Many girls have also stopped going to school because of the violence.
Oxfam International recently conducted a survey of 1,700 Iraqi women that highlighted their problems. They questioned women from Baghdad, 35%, Basra, 19.5%, Ninewa 19.5%, Tamim, 13%, and Najaf, 13%, who were 21-65 years old. 25% were widows. 60% said they received no aid from humanitarian groups. 76% of widows declared they got no help from the government. 45% said their income had declined from 2006-2008, and 30% said it was the same. 40% thought security was worse in 2008 compared to 2007, 38% said it was improving, and 22% said it was the same. 55% said they had been displaced at least once since 2003. As a sign of this almost 50% said they were sharing their home with another family. Many lacked basic services. One quarter said they had no daily access to water, and almost 50% said they had no potable water. 69% said their water situation had gotten worse since 2006. 1/3 said they lacked power for more than 3 hours a day, the other 2/3 said they only had power for six hours or less. 50% said their health care was worse in 2008 compared to 2006-2007. 79% received their food rations, but 45% said it was irregular.
The humanitarian report shows the changes and continued problems facing Iraq. Refugees and the displaced are returning, but in small numbers compared to the total. Violence is down, and looks to be getting better in 2009. At the same time several million Iraqis are still without their homes, and face increasing problems such as jobs and housing. The war has also disrupted the health care system, and set back the country’s women. There is also a measles epidemic that is quickly spreading throughout most of the country. There is still fighting and dying going on in Iraq, but it is receding. That has put humanitarian issues and services to the fore as the country has suffered through decades of war and sanctions, and has yet to recover.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Humanitarian Update Iraq February 2009,” 2/28/09
World Health Organization, “Weekly Feedback on Measles in Iraq,” WHO Representative’s Office in Iraq, 3/8/09
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