Eight years after the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, the country continues to face large scale displacement and pressing humanitarian needs. Although Washington has sought to minimize reports of damage done by the invasion, the UN said that 4.7 million of Iraq’s 30 million people fled their homes. By 2010, less than 10 per cent have returned, and the remainder live in squalid and deprived conditions in neighboring countries, or have taken refuge in parts of Iraq where they feel less threatened. It takes courage - or desperation - for an Iraqi refugee to return home, given the levels of insecurity in the country. But unable to support their families abroad, some are taking that decision. The risks are substantial: According to an autumn 2010 survey by UNHCR, 61 percent of Iraqi asylum-seekers who have returned home have regretted it, citing the astonishing levels of violence.

The team

Team Leader: Géraldine Chatelard

Synthetic Paper

Field Papers

1 comment for this study group

Elizabeth Campbell, 27 March 2011, 11:33 pm

I am writing because I wanted to address a couple of issues on Iraq …

  • Humanitarian Coordination in Syria: I actually think that in many ways the coordination has been better in Syria than in Jordan. This is largely because there is one dominant actor, UNHCR. In Jordan, at the height of the crisis, there were many actors with various funding sources. In many instances refugees were receiving the same benefits from multiple agencies. This has never really been the case in Syria. UNHCR controls all of the cash assistance distribution and conducts the needs assessment (in Jordan UNHCR and NGOs were doing this). There is still at least one parallel health program in Syria, but for the most part refugees are mainstreamed into Syrian clinics and hospitals. In Jordan there have been a number of NGOs operating parallel health programs. Also note that there are a team of researchers at Georgetown University who have been conducting refugee research in Syria and who are now commissioned by the U.S. State Department to do a study on Iraqi refugees, including in Damascus. They would be good academic resources for you.
  • Resettlement: You noted the need to coordinate on this issue. I think it is worth pointing out that in any given year the US government resettles about 80,000 refugees worldwide. This is more than all of the other resettlement countries combined. Like all aspects of the displacement response, the U.S. is clearly in the lead on resettlement. It is true that there are many weaknesses to the U.S. program; however, there has been tremendous advocacy in Washington DC on behalf of this effort. Congress has passed at least four pieces of legislation on the issue, the Administration has implemented a variety of changes that have helped to expedite the process (though a recent change may end up slowing it down again), and to date about 60,000 Iraqis have been resettled to the U.S. since 2007. You can also view a report from Georgetown Law School on Iraqis and the need for U.S. resettlement reforms (see attached). This report helped feed into an interagency process led by the National Security Agency on U.S. resettlement. In addition several U.S. NGOs worked closely with European NGOs in Brussels to create the first ever EU fund for resettlement which focused on Iraqi refugees. For the first time member states could apply for EU funding to resettle Iraqis, albeit at very small levels. Also, there has been quite a lot of intergovernmental and UNHCR and NGO coordination around the resettlement of Palestinian refugees from Iraq. I briefed global resettlement countries and UNHCR in Geneva on this issue at least four times during formal meetings on the subject. I also helped organize an international NGO delegation to the border areas to promote resettlement of this group. Some of my colleagues were from Canada, Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, etc. I actually think there has been a lot of coordination on the issue. At the same time there are of course systemic flaws in the system that need long term attention to reform, but these are global problems and nothing specific to the Iraq program. Finally, I would add that the 11 criteria developed to consider Iraqis for resettlement was objective and applied fairly to all groups and individuals. You might be surprised to know for instance that the majority of Iraqis resettled to the U.S. were not Christians nor those who were persecuted because of their affiliation with the U.S.
  • Diyala Initiative: I have visited this initiative twice and have spent a lot of time interviewing local and provincial authorities, beneficiaries, INGOs, UN officials, and others from the community. In general I think it is a very successful program that should be applauded. I did not find that land was allocated on a patronage system or that some groups were favored over others. In fact the majority of the returnees were religious minorities. Others that were assisted include female headed households (who were never displaced but who needed assistance in rebuilding their lives). I have also visited the new sites in Baghdad where these projects have begun—particularly in Madien. Again, the beneficiaries are exactly those individuals whose homes were destroyed—and they are largely returning to the land that they occupied. There are of course shortcomings to the project, but I think that they mainly have to do with the lack of government services, a lack of jobs, and a lack of basic infrastructure.

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