Iraqi refugees follow provincial elections back home

News Stories, 3 February 2009

© UNHCR/J.Wreford
A typical street scene in a busy district of Damascus that is popular with Iraqi refugees, many of whom have been closely following provincial elections in their home country.

AMMAN, Jordan, February 2 (UNHCR) Iraqi refugees in nearby countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria were on Monday awaiting the outcome of provincial elections in their homeland over the weekend with mixed feelings.

About 50 percent of the electorate turned out in 14 of the country's 18 provinces for Saturday's largely peaceful vote, the first since 2005. More than 14,000 candidates were competing for 440 seats the official results are expected in a few days' time. There was no voting in three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and in Kirkuk the ballot was postponed.

Some refugees said they believed that these elections, which come ahead of a general election later this year, were important for the future. Others were less sanguine, saying they thought the provincial polls would make no difference.

"This is a good election and transparent for the most part," refugee Mohamed* told UNHCR staff at the agency's office in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Aisha,* an Iraqi photographer living in Cairo, agreed that elections offered an opportunity for reconciliation. "I am ready to move beyond ethnic lines and vote for whoever is ready to take this responsibility [for reconciliation]," said Aisha.

"I do not care who will control the majority of seats or who will be in power, but what I truly hope for is a peaceful Iraq that can accommodate all Iraqis irrespective of their ethnic or religious affiliation," said Abou,* who has been living in Cairo since 2006.

While many Iraqi refugees have been following the provincial elections closely, some people are either not interested or pessimistic, seeing no real benefit in the exercise. "The elections carry no significance," Omar, an Iraqi refugee living in Damascus, said bitterly. "The country is destroyed and people care only for their personal gains, positions."

And some have had such a traumatic time that they do not want to ever return to Iraq. "Most of my family members have either been killed, kidnapped or are now refugees scattered across the globe. I am not going to return to Iraq," said Rose* in Cairo. Her family was targeted in sectarian violence.

"Do you think it matters to me who will win the provincial elections? It does not matter, at least to me," she added.

Many Iraqis still live overseas. UNHCR has registered more than 300,000 Iraqis in neighbouring and nearby countries, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. Last year, some 195,000 internally displaced Iraqis and 25,000 refugees were able to return to their homes.

Inside Iraq, UNHCR is increasing its presence and operations amid an improvement in the security situation. The agency has doubled its budget to US$81 million in 2009 and is in the process of increasing the number of provincial offices from 10 to 16. Continued donor support will be vital.

* Names changed for protection reasons

By Dana Bajjali in Amman, Jordan
and Abeer Etefa in Cairo, Egypt