A UNHCR poll of Iraqis who have returned to Baghdad from neighbouring countries found that physical insecurity, economic hardship and a lack of basic public services has led the majority to regret their decision to return to Iraq.
UNHCR’s chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, presenting the survey findings to journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, said it also found that 34 per cent of returnees were uncertain whether they would stay permanently in Iraq and would consider seeking asylum in neighbouring countries once again if conditions do not improve.
The survey of 2,353 Iraqis, or 537 families, who returned to the Baghdad districts of Resafa and Karkh between 2007 and 2008, was conducted by UNHCR staff from April to September this year in person and by phone. Future surveys will cover the conditions of returnees to other parts of Iraq such as Kirkuk, Mosul, Anbar and Diyala.
“During the course of these interviews, UNHCR staff were informed by returnees of numerous instances of explosions, harassment, military operations and kidnapping occurring in their areas of return,” Fleming said.
Many interviewees said they were obliged to return to Iraq because they could no longer afford the high cost of living in asylum states. “In this context, UNHCR continues to remain concerned by occurrences of forcible deportations of Iraqi refugees from their countries of asylum to Iraq,” the UNHCR spokesperson stressed.
The survey found that 61 per cent of those interviewed regretted returning to Iraq from their country of asylum, with 60 per cent of this number stating that this was mainly due to insecurity and personal safety concerns.
Almost 80 per cent of those that returned to Karkh and Resafa said they did not go to their original place of residence, either due to the general insecurity or because they still feared direct persecution. A total 11 per cent cited poor economic conditions and unemployment as reasons for not returning to their former homes and neighbourhoods.
Most Iraqi returnees who did not return to their original homes live with relatives, and in some cases stay with friends or have rented other accommodation. The majority, 87 per cent, said their current income was insufficient to cover their families’ needs in Iraq.
One of the principal challenges for Iraqi returnees is finding regular employment. Inadequate access to public services, including health care, combined with infrequent electricity supply in many parts of the country, add to the hardship facing returnees.
A similar survey on the Syrian and Jordanian borders was released last week by UNHCR. It indicated that the majority of Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan were not considering returning permanently to Iraq in the near future due to continuing political uncertainty and security instability.
“UNHCR does not envisage widescale returns to Iraq in the short term,” Fleming said, adding: “While UNHCR does not promote returns to Iraq, it continues to assist refugees who voluntarily express their wish to return, in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities.”
This assistance covers 100 per cent of transportation as well as a small cash grant. More than 2,960 Iraqis voluntarily returned to Iraq from neighbouring states with UNHCR help during 2007 and the first 10 months of 2008.
According to Iraqi government statistics, 18,240 Iraqi refugees returned from countries of asylum in the first eight months of this year, while 89,700 people displaced inside Iraq returned home in the same period. UNHCR is spending some US$100 million in Iraq this year to alleviate conditions of the internally displaced and to support the reintegration of destitute returnees.