Iraq: NGOs warn against encouraging large-scale refugee returns

News and Press Release
Originally published
BAGHDAD, 3 November 2008 (IRIN) - The Iraqi government should review its policy of encouraging Iraqi refugees to return home by offering them free plane or bus tickets, until it is able to ensure security, local and international NGOs said.

"For the time being, the government should take care of the refugees and meet their daily needs in their host countries until it can secure suitable life conditions to allow them to go back to their homes," said Basil al-Azawi, head of the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 NGOs operating inside and outside Iraq.

"It is illogical that the returnee who finds his house damaged or occupied by another displaced family be left without any government help. They should be financially supported for at least one year," al-Azawi said.

He urged the government to plan for gradual and small-scale returns in parallel with any improvements in security and the provision of public services.

"Their return should be processed gradually and should be based on comprehensive field studies," he said.

IOM, Refugees International

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in its 1 November report that overall returns were continuing at a slow but significant rate, but that returnees needed humanitarian aid to "reconstruct their homes and their livelihoods".

"Despite increased protection efforts, however, there were several episodes of violence targeting Baghdad returnees during the past month, including murders of entire returnee families. Some families were forced back into displacement out of fear," the report said.

Washington-based Refugees International said in its 30 October report: "The priority for the government of Iraq should not be organising transportation back to Iraq or offering financial assistance when returns are not sustainable.

"Rather, the government should provide assistance to the displaced in the region, while working to establish the right conditions for returning Iraqi refugees, including security, essential services and effective means to resolve property disputes.

"Large-scale voluntary returns will not take place anytime soon and many refugees will remain displaced for years. Therefore, relief activities will continue to be essential through 2010," the report said.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 4.2 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Of these, about two million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries - mostly in Syria and Jordan - while the remainder are IDPs.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, some 622 Iraqi families have returned to their homes from Jordan and Syria since the beginning of the year thanks to government-funded transport.