Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Are Conditions Safe Enough for Iraqi Refugees to Return Home?

Some Iraqi refugees are returning to their homes in Iraq, according to Iraqi government officials and the UNHCR. Iraqi officials are quick to cite improved security as the reason that refugees are returning. Damien Cave of the New York Times reports:

"On Nov. 7, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi spokesman for the American-Iraqi effort to pacify Baghdad, said that 46,030 people returned to Iraq from abroad in October because of the 'improving security situation.'"
However, the UNHCR reports other factors as playing a much more significant role in determining whether refugees return. On November 23 at a Geneva press conference, Jennifer Pagoni said:

"According to a survey done by our staff in Syria, there are many reasons for returns to Iraq other than considerations of improved security. Of some 110 Iraqi families UNHCR spoke with in Syria the majority said they are returning because they are running out of money and/or resources, face difficult living conditions, or because their visas have expired."
The primary concern here is the safety of Iraqis. Refugees should not have to return to a conflict zone under any circumstances, whether forced by host communities or governments (refoulement) or, in this case, because of a lack of resources, jobs and services available to them.

"We welcome improvements to the security conditions and stand ready to assist people who have decided or will decide to return voluntarily. However, UNHCR does not believe that the time has come to promote, organize or encourage returns. That would be possible only when proper return conditions are in place – including material and legal support and physical safety."
Photo Caption: Iraqi refugees in the Damascus district of Sayyida Zainab, a hub for Iraq refugees; J. Wreford for the UNHCR

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