Sunday, February 7, 2010

2009 Numbers On Displaced and Refugee Returns To Iraq

In late-2007, as the security situation improved, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was attempting to bolster his reputation for having improved the country before the 2009 provincial elections, the government began a concerted effort to encourage Iraq's estimated 2.9 million internally displaced and 1.7 million refugees to come home. The authorities offered money, plane rides, and bus trips to those that would take up their offer. By 2008, a large number of Iraqis were coming back, but the majority has still not returned.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its latest report on Iraq at the end of January 2010 that gave rough estimates for the number of Iraqis that have moved back. It shows that there was a huge increase from 2007 to 2008, but that has leveled off in 2009. In 2007, the sectarian war was still going on, with militias and insurgents using forced displacement as a weapon to control Baghdad and other areas of central Iraq. In that year 81,420 Iraqis returned, compared to 170,235 the year before. By mid-2008, fighting was in the decline, and the government stepped up its efforts to get Iraqis to move back to their homes. The result was 221,260 came back, the second largest amount since the U.S. invasion. Roughly 195,890 of those were displaced, compared to just 25,370 refugees. In 2009, 204,830 returned, and again, displaced made up the majority at 167,740 compared to 37,090 refugees.

In total, the United Nations has estimated 1,179,326 Iraqis have come back since 2003. Since the war began, most of these people were internally displaced at 745,630, compared to 433,696 refugees. Of those, at least 249,426 were refugees from Saddam's time that returned in the two years after his overthrow. That would mean of the 4.6 million Iraqis who have lost their homes since the U.S. invasion, around 929,900 have returned, or approximately 20%.

Returns 2003-2009
Period Displaced Refugees Total 
2003 0 55,429 55,429 
2004 98,000193,997 291,997 
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 
TOTALS:745,630 433,696 1,179,326 

The UNHCR's numbers also show that the majority of those that lost their homes came from Baghdad, the center of power and conflict in post-Saddam Iraq. In 2009 for example, 60% of those that came back, around 123,700 people, went to the capital. Diyala was second with 58,280, or 28% of the total. Ninewa province was a distant third at 3,570.

2009 Returns By Province
Province Number 
Baghdad 123,700 
Diyala 58,280 
Ninewa 3,570 
Babil 2,800 
Najaf 2,730 
Karbala 2,100 
Salahaddin 1,200 
Basra 1,790 
Wasit 1,590 
Tamim 1,250 
Dhi Qar 1,130 
Anbar 960 
Qadisiyah 900 
Maysan 860 
Dohuk 680 
Irbil 480 
Muthanna 440 
Sulaymaniya 370 
TOTAL 204,830 

Last year also saw a constant flux in returns. In January 2009 7,520 came back, compared to 26,540 in March. That dipped to 14,910 the next month, only to go back up to 21,010 by August, followed by 12,020 in September. By December, 15,050 journeyed home.

Returns by Month 2009
Month Number 
Jan 7,520 
Feb 18,780 
Mar 26,540 
Apr 14,910 
May 15,330 
Jun 18,410 
Jul 20,330 
Aug 21,010 
Sep 12,020 
Oct 18,850 
Nov  16,080 
Dec 15,050 

Despite the large number of returns since 2007, 80% of Iraq's displaced and refugees have still not come back. Those people face increasing difficulties as they have been without their homes for several years now. In mid-January 2010 for example, Syria complained that Baghdad was not taking care of the thousands of refugees that resided there. There are also anecdotal stories of Iraqis coming back, and then leaving again because they couldn't find work or assistance. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) for example, one of the largest aid agencies that works with Iraq's displaced, reported that 55.5% of heads of households of internal refugees were either unemployed or unable to work. Security is greatly improved in Iraq from the heyday of the sectarian war that caused so many Iraqis to be displaced. That has encouraged many to make the effort to go back home. The UNHCR report however, shows that this process has only just begun, and may take years more for all the issues to be settled. That means Iraq's displaced and refugees still need lots of support, which they unfortunately have not found an abundance of.


Bigio, Jamille and Scott, Jen, "Internal Displacement in Iraq: The Process of Working Toward Durable Solutions," Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2009

International Organization for Migration, "Assessment of Return to Iraq," 11/3/09

Oweis, Khaled Yacoub, "Syria says Iraq evading responsibility to refugees," Reuters, 1/18/10

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, "Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress," 1/30/10

UNHCR, "Monthly Statistical Update on Return – December 2009," 1/27/10
- "Poor conditions in Iraq drive returned refugees back to Syria," 12/21/09

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