Survey shows most Iraqis in Syria still unwilling to return home

A survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria has shown that 95 percent fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity and that only 4 percent currently had plans to return to Iraq.

Iraqi children play in a neighbourhood of Damascus. Most Iraqis in Syria appear unwilling to return home at present.   © UNHCR/M.Bernard

GENEVA, April 29 (UNHCR) - A survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria has shown that 95 percent fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity and that only 4 percent currently had plans to return to Iraq.

The latest Assessment on Returns to Iraq was carried out for the UN refugee agency by the IPSOS market research agency in Syria from March 2-18. A total of 994 interviews were undertaken in Damascus at UNHCR's registration and food distribution sites, in community centres or during home visits.

Some 86 percent of the respondents were registered with UNHCR, while 14 percent had not yet been registered. A total of 95 percent stated that they had fled Iraq in recent years, either due to direct threats (65 percent) or general insecurity (30 percent). About 2 percent of the interviewed Iraqis had left Iraq before 2003; 44 percent between 2003 and 2006; and 54 percent since 2006. A total of 94 percent had a valid residency permit in Syria.

The survey revealed that of all those interviewed, only 39 out of 994 people - or 4 percent - were planning to return to Iraq. Of these 39 people, 31 percent planned to return within the next 12 months and the remainder had not set a date. A total of 89.5 percent (890 out of 994) were not planning to return to Iraq, while 6.5 percent (65 out of 994) did not know if they were returning to Iraq.

The survey demonstrated not only the highly mobile nature of this population, with 34 percent having visited Iraq once or twice in the last year, but also that Iraqis are in touch with their home areas and people who have returned voluntarily.

Of the 27 percent who reported knowing people who had returned to Iraq, 62 percent said they were still in contact. Of those Iraqis who knew people who had returned, 77 percent provided feedback that stated that the conditions at home were not satisfactory.

The following reasons were given by those not wishing to return: 61 percent stated they were under direct threat in Iraq; 29 percent did not want to return because of the general insecurity in Iraq; 8 percent responded that their home in Iraq had been destroyed or was presently occupied by others; 1 percent said they had no job in Iraq; and 1 percent said they had no more relatives left at home.

A similar survey has been conducted in Jordan, where 400 Iraqis were interviewed during the first three weeks of March. The results of that survey are still being analyzed.

A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in Iraq. Of these, more than 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries - mostly Syria and Jordan - while 2.7 million are displaced inside Iraq.

"UNHCR remains committed to identifying obstacles to a safe and dignified return to Iraq and to working with the Iraqi government on measures aimed at addressing these obstacles to ensure that a voluntary return will someday be possible," agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said in Geneva on Tuesday.

She noted that UNHCR had appealed in January for US$261 million for its work on behalf of Iraqi refugees outside their country as well as for the internally displaced. "So far, we have received just under half of that amount, which is not enough to keep our programmes going during the second half of 2008," she stressed.

Iraq programme donors as of April 22 include the United States (US$95.4 million); Canada (US$1.5 million); United Kingdom (US$6.2 million); Germany (US$3.9 million); Sweden (US$2.3 million); Finland (US$1.5 million); European Commission (US$6.3 million); Kuwait (US$1 million); France (US$740,000); Switzerland (U$702,000); Italy (US$292,000); private donors (US$109,000).