Displaced Iraqis Find Difficult to Return Home
By Lisa Schlein
13 April 2008

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,A new report indicates Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people who have returned home find no relief from the humanitarian crisis they suffered during their exile and displacement. Iraq's Ministry for Displacement and Migration and the International Organization for Migration made the assessment in a survey of more than five thousand returnees. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The joint Iraqi / I.O.M. study finds the situation for those Iraqis returning home is grim and not necessarily an improvement from when they were displaced.

Jemini Pandya, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, says returnees often lack food, non-food items, fuel, shelter, decent sanitation and jobs.

"Almost half of the assessed returnees have only intermittent access to government food rations which are largely insufficient to meet their needs. And, more than half of the same assessed returnees have no access to health care, medications or the money to pay for them. Though this figure jumps to 70 percent of people returning to Baghdad," said Pandya.
A displaced Iraqi family stand outside their makeshift home at the former Iraqi Army air defense compound in central Baghdad (File)

The more than 78,000 people who have returned to the homes they fled represent less than one percent of Iraq's five million refugees and displaced people. Since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq five years ago, about 2.5 million people have become refugees, mainly in neighboring Syria and Jordan. A similar number has become displaced within Iraq.

Pandya says it is likely that the number of displaced people who have returned home is under-reported. She says in March, prior to the recent violence in Basra, Baghdad and elsewhere, monitors had noticed an increase in returns. But the high rate of returns, she notes, probably outstripped the capacity of Iraqi authorities to identify where these people are located.

"This, combined with the fact that, even before that, not all returnees had been identified means that it is likely that the figures are actually higher. And of those that we know about, nearly two-thirds of them, for your information, returned to Baghdad with March 2007 representing the peak month for returns," said Pandya.

The study finds most returnees have gone back to their original houses. But it says many properties suffered significant damage and a lot of belongings, including furniture, have been lost or stolen.

Furthermore, Pandya notes, many of the people who have returned to Baghdad have found their homes occupied by strangers. She says property disputes and the resettlement of returnees currently are being handled on an ad hoc basis by various authorities. She says a more comprehensive policy must be enacted to resolve tensions over these issues.