Refugees International recently released a report in mid-March 2010 on Iraq’s refugees and displaced that highlighted a return program currently being conducted in Diyala province in northeastern Iraq. Refugees International held up the program as a successful example of the Iraqi government, the United Nations, and international organizations working together to help Iraq’s displaced return and be re-integrated into their home province. The plan seeks to have 27,500 displaced and refugee families return to Diyala, and rebuilding 400 villages destroyed during the war. So far 3,000 homes have been rebuilt, and the Ministry of Displacement and Migration said that 12,900 families, around 77,000 people, had come back to the province from late 2008 to the end of 2009. The government has also provided 12,500 of those families with a grant of $850, with 400 more on the waiting list. The Displacement Ministry is also helping the returnees with jobs. There are also plans to build 6,000 more houses this year.
This has run into a problem however. The government wants to build 3,000 housing units in the Khanaqin district, which is a disputed territory between Arabs and Kurds. After the 2003 invasion, thousands of Kurds returned to the area, claiming that they had been displaced by Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policy. In turn, thousands of Arabs left the district. The central authorities now want these families to return, which the Kurds might object to. Khanaqin was the site of a stand off between government security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga in 2008, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent troops there as part of a security operation in the province. The two sides would not recognize each others’ authority, and the U.S. military had to step in to defuse the situation, which could have led to a shoot out. So far the Kurdish Regional Government has said nothing officially about the housing and return plan.
During the sectarian war of 2006-2007 Diyala saw one of the largest humanitarian disasters in Iraq. According to the International Organization for Migration, Diyala had the second most displaced after Baghdad during the fighting. Conversely, since that phase of the Iraq war ended, the U.N. has found that Diyala has received the second most returns, approximately 55,660 people.
The Diyala plan is to return the displaced to their former homes and rebuild their villages if they were destroyed. Most of this devastation occurred during the sectarian war, but in Khanaqin, displacement mostly occurred as a result of Kurdish refugees returning in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion that pushed out Arab families. Since the district has been a flashpoint between the Kurdistan government and Baghdad in the past, it’s likely that the Kurds will object to Arabs coming back and houses being built for them. In this case, two of Iraq’s major problems, the Arab-Kurd divide and refugees have intersected, with one trouncing an attempt to solve the other. The authorities will likely have to place the Arab families in another part of Diyala, thus maintaining the new population pattern created by the overthrow of Saddam, but at least more families will be able to go back to their province and find permanent shelter.
International Organization for Migration, “IOM Emergency Needs Assessments Post February 2006 Displacement In Iraq 1 June 2009 Monthly Report,” 6/1/09
IRIN, “IRAQ: Controversy over Diyala Province housing project,” 3/18/10
- “IRAQ: IDPs returning to Diyala Province in increasing numbers,” 3/9/10
Refugees International, “Iraq: Humanitarian Needs Persist,” 3/17/10
UNHCR Iraq Operation, “Monthly Statistical Update on Return – December 2009,” 1/27/10
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