Tuesday, January 30, 2007

IOM Report on Iraqi IDPs

I just got back from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where I sat in on a presentation by the International Organization for Migration's Iraq Displacement Specialist, Dana Graber, on the IOM's just-released Iraq Displacement 2006 Year in Review. While I encourage all of you to read the report in full, here is a brief outline of what it includes.

The IOM has been working in Iraq since 2003, monitoring internally displaced persons (IDPs) and contributing to emergency aid programs like Mercy Hands, directed by Kaldhoon Ali, who was kind enough to sit down recently for an EPIC Ground Truth Project interview. As you know, the the level of sectarian violence in Iraq has grown rapidly since the February 2006 bombing of al-Askari shrine, and in turn, this rise in violence has caused a sharp spike in number of IDPs. While the Iraqis with greater wealth and resources manage to flee the country to safer places like Jordan or Syria, thereby achieving refugee status and protections under international law, IDPs lack the ability to do the same and consequently are much more vulnerable. Currently, there are 370,000 IDPs in Iraq. This number has been growing at an alarming rate, with a January average of 1,000 new IDPs every 24 hours.

According to Ms. Graber, the most violent areas, which are in the center of the country, are the source for over 70% of Iraq's total IDPs for 2006. They are abandoning their homes not just because of direct threats on their lives--which take the form of everything from texts messages on mobile phones to threatening graffiti--but also because of general crime and military operations. The report contains detailed data sets that deal with the most prominent IDP issues: resettlement intentions, shelter options, property issues, food and fuel availability, health care accessibility, and the impact of displacement on women and children.

Ms. Graber concluded her sobering presentation with some information about the future of IOM funding. IOM and other organizations simply lack the funding to cope with the increasing scale of this crisis, she said. Through its humanitarian programs, IOM has assisted 30,000 families in Iraq since 2003, with 22,000 of those families receiving assistance since the February 2006 bombing of al-Askari shrine. Yet in the fifth year of this war, donor fatigue has taken a toll on funding levels. In 2006, IOM only received 25% of their requested funding. Ms. Graber shared that two organizations that work closely with IOM in providing humanitarian assistance have decided to shut down their operations in Iraq because of a lack of funds and the increasingly precarious security situation.

The State Department's PRM and USAID-OFDA, which provided the funding for the IOM report (as did IOM member states the Netherlands and Australia) have been very interested in the report's findings. Ms. Graber says that this information will be used by these and other organizations to lobby for continued, and hopefully increased, funding from Congress.

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