The following originally appeared in Musings On Iraq
Refugees International released a report on October 30 on Iraq’s refugees calling for increasing international aid to assist them. The major thrust of the paper was that most of Iraq’s two million refugees are not ready to go back to Iraq any time soon, so the international community and the Iraqi government need to make long term plans on how to deal with this population that is facing dire circumstances. Refugees International said the main priority of this effort should be aiding the host countries where Iraq’s displaced now reside.
Refugees International argues that Iraq’s displaced are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In countries like Syria and Lebanon that have over one million Iraqis in total, refugees face high unemployment because most cannot legally work, increasing prices for food, fuel, and rent, and are running out of money as a result. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not helped the situation. Some in his administration believe those who fled the country are traitors. That was why Baghdad encouraged Syria in October 2007 to demand visas to stem the tide of Iraqis going there. When the Maliki government finally did offer aid to host countries, it was only $25 million, and took a year to be delivered.
Now Iraq is trying to encourage its citizens to return. As American officials like General David Petraeus and others have said, the situation in Iraq is still tenuous. Refugees International and the United Nations both don’t believe it is time for Iraqis to come back. A survey by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees found that 70% of those that went back became internally displaced. A more recent survey by the International Organization for Migration and the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration found hat 86% of those that returned were able to go back to their homes, but 42% found them damaged. There are also groups like religious minorities and former Baathists that might never return. At the same time, thousands of Iraqis still want to leave the country as Iraq has the most asylum seekers in the world for the last two years. For all of these reasons, it is unlikely that many will be back in Iraq any time soon.
Refugees International believes that the Iraqi government’s response to the crisis is wrong. Instead of calling for refugees to return, the authorities should be improving the conditions within the country so Iraqis will want to come back on their own. That means providing security, basic services, and settling property disputes. Iraq, the U.S., and the international community also need to provide aid to refugees and their host countries to help relieve their problems. Refugees International believes that it will take U.S. leadership for this to occur, but that won’t happen until the presidential election is over. Even then, the new U.S. president needs to make Iraq’s refugees a priority otherwise nothing is likely to change.
International Crisis Group, “Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon,” 7/10/08
LaFranchi, Howard, “US more cautious in Iraq appraisals,” Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/08
Ministry of Displacement and Migration & International Organization for Migration, “Returnee Monitoring and Needs Assessments Tabulation Report,” September 2008
Refugees International, “Iraqi Refugees: Plan For Ongoing Support In An Unstable Region,” 10/30/08
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Asylum Levels and Trends In Industrialized Countries, First Half 2008,” 10/17/08