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Iraqi refugees in Syria reluctant to return to home permanently: survey

News Stories, 8 October 2010

© UNHCR/B.Heger
Syria / Iraqi refugees / A UNHCR staff member talks with an Iraqi refugee family in the one-room apartment shared between 13 extended family members. / UNHCR / B. Heger / August 2007

GENEVA, October 8 (UNHCR) A recent UNHCR survey of Iraqi refugees living in Syria has found that most are still reluctant to return home on a permanent basis. The survey was carried out in July and August at the Al Waleed border crossing between Syria and Iraq.

"Of 498 families, representing more than 2,000 individuals, 46 per cent cited political uncertainty, while 15 per cent blamed unstable security conditions. A further 13 per cent said they are holding back because of poor educational opportunities, and six percent cited housing shortages," Melissa Fleming, UNHCR's chief spokesperson, told journalists in Geneva.

"Most people crossing the border 89 per cent said it was for a short trip only. In 42 per cent of cases this was for visiting family members, 18 per cent said they were checking conditions on the ground, 15 per cent to obtain documentation and 10 per cent to check on property," she added.

A similar survey on the Iraq-Jordan border among 364 families (about 1,450 people) found that none were returning to Iraq permanently. Similar reasons were cited.

Syria hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees in the region. Since the start of the war in Iraq, UNHCR has registered more than 290,000 Iraqis. Some have since been resettled or departed to third countries on their own; some have returned to Iraq, most of them spontaneously and a few with limited assistance from UNHCR. Most, however, remain in Syria. At the end of August, the number of Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR stood at slightly more than 150,000.

"Demand for registration by Iraqi refugees in Syria has increased during the past five months, with an average of 1,900 people requesting registration appointments every month since the beginning of the year," Fleming said. "Since May, this figure has risen dramatically to a peak of 3,500 in August. The majority of Iraqis requesting registration came from Baghdad and Ninewa governorates, recognized as being particularly dangerous in UNHCR guidelines," she added.

Syria has been a generous host to Iraqi refugees. More than 70 percent of the Iraqi refugees currently registered in Syria have lived there for over four years. Although many Iraqi refugees left Iraq with some savings, after years of exile, these savings have run out. As a result, refugees rely on food and financial assistance from UNHCR.

Approximately 40 per cent of all registered Iraqis in Syria are considered vulnerable and in need of assistance. About 34,000 suffer serious medical conditions, while 9 per cent of the refugee population are classified as "women at risk."

"UNHCR does not consider the security situation in Iraq adequate to facilitate or promote returns. We nonetheless continue to assist refugees who voluntarily express their wish to return, in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities," Fleming noted.

The number of refugees who return permanently to Iraq has been very low, with UNHCR having supported 163 to return to Iraq from Syria since the beginning of 2010. According to Iraqi government statistics, only 18,240 Iraqi refugees returned from exile between January and August. This represents 20 per cent of the total returns of 89,700 in the same period, including internally displaced people.

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Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The UN refugee agency's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq this week, meeting with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She offered support to 3.3 million people uprooted by conflict in the country and highlighted their needs.

Jolie spoke to people with dramatic stories of escape, including some who walked through the night and hid by day on their road freedom. She also met women who were among the 196 ethnic Yazidis recently released by militants and now staying in the informal settlement at Khanke.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," said Jolie. "On top of large numbers of Syrian refugees, 2 million Iraqis were displaced by violence in 2014 alone. Many of these innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety amidst shifting frontlines."

Photos by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

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Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

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