Friday, March 23, 2007

The Internal Refugees

Our friends at Refugees International have just released a report based on a two-week assessment mission in the Kurdish areas of N. Iraq undertaken by RI Advocate Kristele Younes and journalist Nir Rosen. Of late much of the focus on the displacement crisis has centered on the refugee crisis. So while we often hear of the difficulties Iraqis have finding refuge in neighboring countries, no one has really discussed difficulties internally displaced Iraqis have.

As one of the most secure areas in Iraq (due mostly to the fact that it is protected by its own security forces) Kurdistan is a very popular destination for internal refugees; but getting there is not easy. They must first pass through multiple security checkpoints and then provide the name of a guarantor, a "Kurdish resident of one of the the three Northern Governorates, who can attest to the morality and identity of the displaced." Even so, single Arab men are rarely allowed in, and Muslim Arabs in general have a much harder time getting in than Christians or Kurds.

The problems, however, do not stop once allowed through. Though the security situation is certainly more stable in the Kurdish north, internal refugees face dire economic prospects. Most are unable to find work and are thus unable to keep up with the high cost of living in this region. A Sunni Arab woman from Baghdad told Refugees International that she and her husband had decided to return to Baghdad with their two children despite the threats they had received for being Sunni. “My husband can’t find work here, and the rent is too expensive. Everything is cheaper in Baghdad. God will protect us, I hope.” This is just incredible.

While the situation of Iraq's IDP's continues to deteriorate, no Iraqi, U.S. or U.N. institution has to actually mount an effective response. Why? Because they don't even really acknowledge it as an issue. The report goes on to say, "In fact, the Iraqi Government’s refusal to declare a humanitarian crisis is leading donors to question whether their funds are really needed to assist the displaced." The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR ), which has primary responsibility for the displaced people in the Kurdish and southern regions only has about $9 million to spend on the this year. RI quotes a UNHCR official as saying, “If we were looking at responding to real needs, then even $150 million would not be enough.”

We have made some small steps in dealing with the refugee problem, but have yet to even begin to address the IDP crisis. Hopefully this will report will motivate the U.S., U.N. and even Iraqi institutions to take the problem seriously.
UPDATE: You can hear Kristele Younes, one of the authors of the report, discussing the IDP crisis on NPR's Morning Edition.

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