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.