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October 8, 10

NEWS / Many refugees reluctant to return to Iraq, UN survey finds

8 October 2010 – Most Iraqi refugees living in Syria are reluctant to permanently return to their home country, according to a survey carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Nearly half of the refugees surveyed cited political uncertainty as a reason for not wanting to repatriate, while others blamed unstable security conditions, poor educational opportunities and housing shortages.

Almost 500 families, or more than 2,000 people, took part in the poll carried out on the Al Waleed border crossing between Syria and Iraq between July and August.

The vast majority of Iraqis crossing the border into their country said it was for a short trip only to visit family members, check conditions on the ground, obtain documentation or check on property.

A similar survey on the Iraq-Jordan border among more than 350 families found that none were returning to Iraq permanently, citing similar reasons.

Syria is home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees in the region, with the UNHCR office in the country having registered more than 290,000 Iraqis since the start of the war in their country.

According to Government figures, there are more than 1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, with some 130,000 regularly receiving help from UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Some of the refugees have officially been resettled and others have departed to third countries by other means. Some have returned to Iraq, in a few cases with limited UNHCR assistance.

“Most, however, remain in Syria,” agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming said, with 153,000 Iraqi refugees registered by UNHCR in Syria as of the end of August.

Demand for UNHCR registration by Iraqi refugees in Syria has been on the rise in recent months, with an average of 1,900 people requesting registration appointments every month since the start of the year.

That number soared to 3,500 in August, with most of those requesting registration coming from Baghdad and Ninewa governorates which UNHCR guidelines recognize as being particularly dangerous.

“Syria has been a generous host to Iraqi refugees,” Ms. Fleming stressed, noting that more than 70 per cent of Iraqi refugees currently registered in Syria have lived there for more than four years.

Many of them left their country with some savings, which have run out after years in exile, and they now rely on food and financial aid from UNHCR to sustain themselves.

Some 40 per cent of all registered Iraqis in Syria are deemed vulnerable and in need of assistance, with 34,000 suffering serious medical conditions and 9,000 considered to be women at risk.

“UNHCR does not consider the security situation in Iraq adequate to facilitate or promote returns,” the agency’s spokesperson underlined, while adding that UNHCR continues to assist those who wish to return.

Since the start of this year, only 163 UNHCR-supported returns have taken place, while according to Iraqi Government statistics, only 18,000 refugees have returned from exile in the period between January and August.

Continued violence in Iraq has resulted in large-scale internal and external displacement of the population, with more than 1.5 million remaining uprooted within the country’s borders while hundreds of thousands are living as refugees in neighbouring nations, mainly in Syria and Jordan.

Last month, the agency voiced concern over ongoing deportations of Iraqis from Western European countries back to violence-prone areas of their homeland, stressing that they should continue to benefit from international protection.


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