Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Iraq displacement

Briefing notes

Iraq displacement

3 November 2006

In a briefing for donor governments in Geneva yesterday, UNHCR said it was increasingly alarmed over the incessant violence in Iraq and distressed over the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. UNHCR officials who just returned from the region warned that we are now facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than we had initially prepared for in 2002-03. Yet we're sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced and increasingly desperate Iraqis needing help both within and outside their country.

As part of our preparations for a possible exodus of up to 600,000 refugees in 2002-03, for example, we had originally set a budget of $154 million. Today, we are faced with hundreds of thousands more displaced than we had planned for then, but have a $29 million budget that is only about 60 percent funded. In fact, we have already had to suspend a number of crucial activities - to the extent that some of our staff in the region are volunteering to forego their salaries for the next two months just to keep some of these projects going.

While the international community has provided billions of dollars in funding for recovery and development programmes for Iraq - many of which have not been implemented because of security concerns - humanitarian programmes inside Iraq and in neighbouring states remain neglected. We're now calling for a renewed focus on the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Much of our work in the three years since the fall of the previous regime was based on the assumption that the domestic situation would stabilize and hundreds of thousands of previously displaced Iraqis would be able to go home. Now, however, we're seeing more and more displacement linked to the continuing violence. This has necessitated a reassessment of UNHCR's work and our priorities throughout the region - from assisting returns and aiding some 50,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq, to providing more help to the tens of thousands who are fleeing every month. That reassessment is continuing and elements of it were shared in yesterday's briefing to donors.

UNHCR officials just back from the region reported that we now estimate there are at least 1.6 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 1.8 million outside the country in neighbouring states. Many were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now. Of the internally displaced, we estimate some 425,000 Iraqis have fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq this year alone - largely due to sectarian violence sparked by the Samarra bombings in February. And internal displacement is continuing at a rate of some 50,000 a month. This displacement amid the ongoing violence in Iraq is presenting an enormous humanitarian challenge and extreme hardship for both the displaced and the Iraqi families trying to help them in host communities. The enormous scale of the needs, the ongoing violence and the difficulties in reaching the displaced make it a problem that is practically beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR. And the longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets as both the internally displaced and their host communities in Iraq run out of resources.

Outside Iraq, the figures in the immediate neighbouring states are still imprecise, but we now estimate there are up to 700,000 Iraqis in Jordan; at least 600,000 in Syria; at least 100,000 in Egypt; 20-40,000 in Lebanon; and 54,000 in Iran. Many of those outside the country fled over the past decade or more, but now some 2,000 a day are arriving in Syria, and an estimated 1,000 a day in Jordan. Most of them do not register with UNHCR.

Donors were told that the population movements show no sign of abating and that the needs of those who have fled are dramatic and to a large extent unmet. Some 50,000 non-Iraqi refugees - mostly Palestinians, Syrians and Iranians - under UNHCR's care inside Iraq are also in an increasingly dire situation. We fear hundreds of thousands more Iraqis who have waited to see an improvement in the situation are now teetering on the brink of displacement. Many urban professionals have already fled. Doctors, teachers, computer technicians and other skilled people crucial to the country's stability and well-being are leaving.

UNHCR thanked the neighbouring states which have so generously received Iraqis and appealed to them to continue extending hospitality and temporary protection - and for countries beyond the immediate region to help carry this burden. It was also pointed out to donors that thousands of Iraqis are now moving beyond the region, including to Europe. Of some 40 nationalities seeking asylum in European countries in the first half of 2006, Iraqis ranked first with more than 8,100 applications. Statistics received from 36 industrialised countries for the first six months of 2006 showed a 50 percent increase in Iraqi asylum claims over the same period a year ago.

Palestinian refugees in Jordan: UNHCR welcomes a decision by the Government of Canada to resettle a group of Palestinian refugees from Ruwayshed camp in Jordan. Fifty-three of the 150 Palestinians who are presently living in the isolated desert camp have received medical and security clearance from Canada and are scheduled to travel before the end of the year. Another 10 are presently undergoing clearance procedures, but we have not yet received assurances that they will be able to leave the camp.

The gesture by Canada comes at a crucial moment, when the situation of Palestinian refugees inside Iraq and in the neighbouring countries is absolutely desperate and no other secure alternatives are being offered. The prospects for a solution for the remaining 97 Palestinians in the camp, however, are still grim. All of them will be facing their fourth winter in the scorpion-infested desert site. Many of them fled Iraq in 2003, when the situation became more and more difficult for Palestinians inside Iraq. Access to Jordan was denied. Return to Iraq is out of the question.

Now, as those remaining see other Palestinians leave the camp, the level of despair is getting even worse. Over the past three years, 1,200 people (Iranians, Sudanese and some Palestinians) have been resettled to third countries. In recent days, some of the refugees have threatened to harm themselves and some are on hunger strike. We again appeal to neighbouring states as well as resettlement countries to provide an urgent, humane solution for those remaining.