Survey shows most Iraqis in Syria still unwilling to return home

News Stories, 29 April 2008

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

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).

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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