After the bombing of the Samarra shrine in Salahaddin province in February 2006, an estimated 1.6 million Iraqis were forced from their homes as the sectarian civil war took off. That accounted for 5.5% of the population, and eclipsed earlier displacements from the Saddam era and immediately after the 2003 invasion. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has worked extensively with this population providing them with assistance and surveying their opinions. An April 2010 report by the group found that almost half of the internal refugees want to return home, but many haven’t because of a myriad of problems they face.
According to the IOM 49% of the displaced questioned wanted to return to their homes, but that varied by region. When asked about their intentions 49% of the displaced said they wanted to go back to their original provinces, 29% said they would like to integrate where they were, and 19% wanted to resettle in another location. Those numbers were down from a 2009 survey that found 61% wanted to return, and 22% wanted to integrate. The IOM thought the decline was because many of those that wanted to go back did. Interest in returning was highest in the two provinces that saw the greatest displacement during the civil war, Baghdad at 80% and Diyala at 83%. In comparison, refugees in the south had the highest numbers of those that wanted to integrate with 84% voicing that opinion in Basra, 69% in Wasit, 60% in Dhi Qar, and 46% in Qadisiyah. The southern governorates mostly have Shiite refugees that fled Baghdad, which could account for many of them wanting to stay there.
Various reasons were given for why 51% of those that were surveyed did not want to return. Those included a lack of security, destroyed property, inability to access their homes, and the lack of jobs and services. Interviews also showed that many wanted to see how the March 2010 parliamentary elections played out before making a decision on what to do with their futures.
Central Iraqi provinces that saw the most violence during the sectarian war have been the ones with the most returns. Baghdad and Diyala, which accounted for 80% of displacement, have had the most families come back at 35,067 and 11,730 each. 5,907 families went back to Anbar, 5,005 to Tamim, 1,841 to Ninewa, and 626 to Maysan, followed them. Southern Iraq, Kurdistan, and Salahaddin had the fewest returns. Irbil for example only had 103 families come back, while Dhi Qar had 108 and Salahaddin 335. The people most likely to return were those that were displaced within their own province. 58% of them have gone back. That compares to 23% that came from other governorates and 19% that returned from other countries. IOM surveying found that better security, 48%, followed by a mix of more security and government aid, 26%, and difficult living conditions, 12%, were the main reasons why people made the decision. Most also return only when they know they have work and shelter.
# Of Returning Families By Province
Dhi Qar 108
After hitting a low point in 2007, the overall number of returns has greatly increased. In 2007 only around 36,000 displaced came back compared to 150,000 from the year before. As violence subsided returns shot way up in 2008 at 195,890, followed by 167,740 the next year.
Despite those numbers the majority of post-Samarra refugees are still not in their homes. Baghdad, 100,337 families, Diyala 21,064 families, Ninewa 19,040, Dohuk 18,406, and Babil 13,430 have the most displaced, while Muthanna 2,794 families, Qadisiyah 3,833, and Basra 6,968 have the least. 84% of the refugees in Baghdad and Diyala were displaced within their own province, and 52% in Ninewa. Overall, 58% of internal refugees are Shiite Arabs, 28% are Sunnis Arabs, 5% are Sunni Kurds, 5% are Christians, and 4% are classified as other. The sectarian nature of the violence can also be seen in the fact that all of the displaced in Anbar are Sunnis, while 60% of those that fled the province are Shiite. There was also a sectarian bent to the movement of people as the majority of the displaced that left Basra were Sunnis, while the majority of the refugees in the province are Shiites from Baghdad.
Location Of Displaced Families By Province
Dhi Qar 7,719
Origins Of Displaced Families
The displaced and returnees also face a number of problems as well. Some families are having problems with their finances, and face substandard housing and a lack of services. 46% reported sporadic access to the government run food ration system. When asked about their most pressing needs, jobs, 73%, followed by shelter, 62%, and food, 61%, were at the top of the list. For those that have returned food, 67%, health care, 43%, water, 36%, fuel, 35%, and work, 34%, were the most important. Most returnees are more economically stable than the displaced, which is probably a large factor in them going back.
Iraq still faces one of the largest refugee populations in the world. While the rate of return has gone up in recent years, the majority are still displaced either within Iraq or in neighboring countries, placing an added burden upon those areas. The end of the civil war and the improvement in security have been the greatest draws for people to go back, but continued violence, political disputes, the lack of jobs, and services still keep many away. It’s heartening to find that almost half want to go back, but that seems like it will be a long process as the rate of return has varied each year, rather than seeing a steady increase. Until Iraq becomes a more stable country it’s unlikely that most of the displaced will make that journey back to their homes.
International Organization for Migration, “IOM Emergency Needs Assessments Four Years of Post-Samarra Displacement In Iraq,” 4/13/10
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