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UNHCR poll: Iraqi refugees regret returning to Iraq, amid insecurity

Briefing Notes, 19 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A poll of Iraqis who have returned to Baghdad from neighbouring countries found that physical insecurity, economic hardship and a lack of basic public services has led the majority to regret their decision to return to Iraq. The survey also found that 34 percent said they were uncertain whether they would stay permanently in Iraq and would consider seeking asylum in neighbouring countries once again if conditions do not improve.

The survey of 2,353 Iraqis, or 537 families, who returned to the Baghdad districts of Resafa and Karkh between 2007 and 2008, was conducted by UNHCR staff from April to September this year in person and by phone. Future surveys will cover the conditions of returnees to other parts of Iraq such as Kirkuk, Mosul, Anbar and Diyala.

During the course of these interviews, UNHCR staff were informed by returnees of numerous instances of explosions, harassment, military operations and kidnapping occurring in their areas of return. Many interviewed stated that they were obliged to return to Iraq because they could no longer afford the high cost of living in asylum states. In this context, UNHCR continues to remain concerned by occurrences of forcible deportations of Iraqi refugees from their countries of asylum to Iraq.

The survey found that 61 percent of the Iraqi returnees interviewed regretted returning to Iraq from their country of asylum with 60 percent of this number stating that this was mainly due to insecurity and personal safety concerns. Around 77 percent of those that returned to the two Baghdad districts of Karkh and Resafa said they did not return to their original place of residence either due to the general insecurity or because they still feared direct persecution. Some 11 percent cited poor economic conditions and unemployment as reasons for not returning to their former homes and neighbourhoods.

Most Iraqi returnees who did not return to their original homes live with relatives, and in some cases stay with friends or have rented other accommodation. The majority, 87 percent, stated that their current income is insufficient to cover their families' needs in Iraq.

One of the principal challenges for Iraqi returnees is finding regular employment, making them reliant on irregular jobs, which are often not available. Inadequate access to public services including health care combined with infrequent electricity supply, as experienced in many parts of the country this summer, add to the hardship facing returnees.

Last week a similar survey on the Syrian and Jordanian borders was released by UNHCR revealing that the majority of Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan were not considering returning permanently to Iraq in the near future due to ongoing political uncertainty and security instability.

UNHCR does not envisage wide-scale returns to Iraq in the short-term. While UNHCR does not promote returns to Iraq, it continues to assist refugees who voluntarily express their wish to return, in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities. This assistance covers 100% of transportation as well as a small cash grant. Around 2,965 Iraqis have voluntarily returned to Iraq from 2007 to October 2010 with the support of UNHCR from neighbouring states.

According to Iraqi government statistics, 18,240 Iraqi refugees have returned from countries of asylum between January to August 2010 with 89,700 people who had been internally displaced inside Iraq returning in the same period. UNHCR is spending some $100 million in Iraq this year to alleviate conditions of the internally displaced and to support the re-integration of destitute returnees.

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UNHCR country pages

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

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

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