Iraq's Refugees Today
As of September 2012, Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) reported that there were still over 1.3 million IDPs. (internally displaces persons) (However, if the earlier figures of 2.7 million were correct, one wonders what has happened to the other 1.4 million. Have they all truly integrated into their new communities or moved elsewhere in the country, or simply slipped further under the radar screen?) One of the few international agencies still monitoring displacement in Iraq, the International Organization for Migration, reports that few of today's IDPs expect to ever return to their homes. In fact, the percentage of those expressing a wish to return to their homes has dropped from 45 percent in 2006 to six percent in 2012, mostly because of the lack of security. And the sectarian dimension remains alive and well. Provincial political leaders view potential returns of IDPs through a sectarian lens, seeing returns of particular groups in terms of their impact on the communitarian makeup of their province and the balance of power between different communities.
For those who do want to return to their homes, the complex and extremely bureaucratic question of getting their property back is complicated and will, in the best of cases, take years. The Iraqi MoDM wants to "close the displacement file" by finding solutions for those displaced and has offered cash enticements to encourage people to return to their communities. But finding durable solutions for IDPs isn't so easy in Iraq, particularly given the difficult economic conditions. As the former Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs, Walter Kaelin, said two years ago, resolving displacement in Iraq is a political imperative, a development challenge, and a vital issue for reconciliation and peacebuilding.
(For refugees outside Iraq) The latest figures, based on government estimates, are that there are 1,428,308 refugees of Iraqi origin in Jordan and Syria of whom only 135,000 receive assistance from the UNHCR. Since the numbers peaked in 2009, some Iraqis have returned to Iraq. According to the UNHCR, an estimated 550,000 Iraqis returned to the country between 2008 and 2011, but most weren't able to return to their homes and instead joined the rank of IDPs. And some Iraqis have been resettled outside the region: more than 85,000 Iraqi refugees over the past decade -- 72 percent of whom have gone to the United States. Surprisingly, more than 3,000 Iraqis were resettled out of Syria last year -- a testament to the courageous UNHCR staff in Damascus and to the desperation of Iraqis wanting to escape the conflict in Syria. Refugee resettlement has worked, but it has been a lengthy and bureaucratic process; in some cases the enhanced security procedures have led to delays stretching for years.