Unable to Return Home Safely, Uprooted Iraqis Grow Destitute and Desperate - IRC Press Release
Seven years into the Iraq conflict, millions of Iraqi civilians remain uprooted and desperate, but ongoing strife and persecution, occupied and ruined homes and lack of vital services in their communities of origin preclude most from returning home safely, says the International Rescue Committee’s Commission on Iraqi Refugees.
In its third report, “A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq,” the Commission says only a tiny fraction of Iraq’s displaced have returned home, in spite of reports that would suggest otherwise. For the vast majority of those who remain uprooted, the situation is precarious and growing worse, yet aid levels that were inadequate to begin with are dropping off.
“At a time when increased aid is urgently needed for uprooted Iraqis, international attention and support are waning,” says IRC President George Rupp, who led the Commission on a visit to Jordan, Syria and Iraq late last year. “It is critical that diplomacy and resources be redirected toward creating conditions suitable for the safe return of displaced Iraqis and speeding resettlement for those who cannot go back. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Government and international donors must ramp up and improve assistance for displaced Iraqis where they are currently living.”
During their latest visit to the region, Rupp and other delegates met with senior government officials, UN representatives and dozens of Iraqi civilians who described harrowing incidents of bombings, killings, torture, threats and persecution that they and loved ones experienced before fleeing. In many cases, Iraqis were targeted for having aided the U.S. government and Coalition forces.
The Commission found that most displaced Iraqis inside and outside Iraq are struggling to get by and continue to face overwhelming economic obstacles. They have largely exhausted savings they once had and are becoming more if not solely dependent on charity. Few are able to find stable sources of income. Many lack adequate shelter, food and other basic services. Those who have been renting apartments are increasingly unable to afford them. A large number suffer severe psychological distress over the loss of family, savings, livelihoods and property. In Iraq, government assistance is often out of reach because of chronic insecurity and bureaucratic red tape. In Jordan and Syria, health care and other services are there but are often prohibitively expensive.
“With no end to their suffering in sight, hopelessness and frustration are pervasive,” the IRC report states.
Expressing concern about a “lost generation” of Iraqi youth, the IRC Commission says young Iraqis have been deeply impacted by the chaos and uncertainty around them. Violence and displacement have disrupted the education of many children and teens who are now behind in their learning. In Iraq, many can’t travel to school because it’s unsafe or too expensive. Throughout the region, many Iraqi children who do attend class go in shifts because schools open to displaced kids are overcrowded. Many Iraqi children are also forced to work to help their families stay afloat. Sexual and economic exploitation of children, youth and female-headed households is a growing problem and concern, particularly in Jordan and Syria.
Commission members say most displaced Iraqis desperately want to go home and rebuild their lives but cannot return to communities that are unsafe and in disrepair.
“Many Iraqis tell us that they can’t go home because their houses are destroyed, damaged or occupied by armed groups or other displaced people,” says Aidan Goldsmith, a delegation member and director of IRC programs in Iraq. “They also say that they’re afraid of being killed or harassed by militias for religious, ethnic or political reasons if they go back. And sadly, many know of friends and family who have disappeared upon return.”
Goldsmith adds that communities across Iraq currently have little to no capacity to absorb hundreds of thousands of returnees. “Why would Iraqis go back if there’s no clean water, food or electricity or if it’s too dangerous for their children to walk to school?” he asks. “Their eventual return is going to be contingent on improved security and protection, functioning hospitals and schools, access to aid and basic services, the resolution of property disputes and the ability to find employment.”
The report concludes that the plight of displaced Iraqis continues to be ignored: “We are convinced that most refugees cannot and should not go home now—it is not safe for many of them and for many others, there is nothing to go back to. Sadly, some will never be able to go home again.”
The IRC Commission on Iraqi Refugees makes recommendations on addressing immediate and long-term needs to the Governments of Iraq, the United States, Jordan, Syria, the Kurdish Region and EU countries, as well as the United Nations.
Key recommendations include:
Government of Iraq
The Iraqi Government has failed to adequately address the displacement crisis and the humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of its displaced citizens. Authorities should vastly increase aid for displaced Iraqis at home and outside the country, particularly in Jordan and Syria, and eliminate needless bureaucratic barriers to registration and basic services. Improved protection for civilians, particularly in neighborhoods now populated by a homogenous religious group or sect, must be a critical component of a comprehensive and long-term voluntary return and reintegration program. Such a program must also include rebuilding infrastructure and shelter, restoring needed services and property restitution.
The U.S. has spent approximately $650 billion for military operations in Iraq and a disproportionate $29 billion for diplomacy and aid. More resources must be allocated to help the displaced in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and other host countries. The U.S. should increase financial and technical assistance to the Iraqi government, press Iraqi authorities to increase assistance to IDPs and refugees and help create conditions across Iraq that will allow for the sustainable return of uprooted people. The United States must continue to lead the way in giving sanctuary to the most vulnerable Iraqis who cannot return home and keep reforming its resettlement program to ensure that new arrivals have sufficient support to successfully restart their lives.
European countries, particularly the U.K., must remain engaged in Iraq, providing increased levels of technical support and resources to assist refugees and internally displaced Iraqis. European countries must open their doors to far greater numbers of Iraqi refugees seeking resettlement and immediately stop the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to Iraq. The move puts the lives of civilians at grave risk, since insecurity remains the principal reason why people have fled or are still fleeing Iraq.
Governments of Jordan and Syria
Syria and Jordan, which have shouldered an enormous burden by taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees, should extend temporary legal status to refugees and permit them to work. The two countries should also work with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) to enhance legal protections and expand refugee rights.
The latest report from the IRC Commission on Iraqi Refugees: “A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq.” [PDF]
The Commission’s first report on the Iraqi refugee crisis, “Five Years Later: A Hidden Crisis,” was issued in 2008.
A second report, “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits,” followed in 2009.
For More Information
IRC's special report on the Iraqi refugee crisis: theIRC.org/iraqirefugees
IRC Programs in Iraq, Jordan and Syria: The International Rescue Committee returned to the region in 2007 to address the basic needs of refugees and internally displaced Iraqis—delivering vital assistance to some 90,000 people. The IRC rehabilitates schools, sets up child friendly spaces, and offers remedial education, special aid for disabled children and adults, and counseling for vulnerable populations. It also provides cash assistance and household supplies, repairs water and sanitation system repairs, carries out programs that prevent and respond to incidents of violence against women, distributes shelter materials and tools, and provides access to legal aid and other protection services.