Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Displaced Iraqis: Image and Reality

Although the issue of Iraq has subsided from public consciousness in the United States because "the surge has worked" and attacks on American troops have been dramatically reduced, things have hardly gone back to normal for Iraqis. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that five years after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, "more people than ever before are displaced from conflict and sectarian violence" in Iraq. Increased media attention to the return of refugees and displaced people to their old neighborhoods has created the impression that the situation has improved, but in reality, returnees are only about one per cent of those who fled.

"Although the rate of displacement has slowed over the past year due to improved security in cities such as Baghdad and to sectarian cleansing of previously mixed neighborhoods, there are now more 5.1 million Iraqis who are either displaced within Iraq or are living as refugees abroad," IOM says. Of that total, 2.7 million are Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and more than 2.4 million are refugees, most of them living in neighboring Syria and Jordan. These numbers represent successive waves of displacement: those who fled their homes to escape persecution by the Saddam Hussein regime, those who fled the American-led invasion, and those who fled the chaotic sectarian violence that followed. The third wave was the largest, peaking in 2006, when more than 60,000 people per month were fleeing their homes.

IOM says that conditions for the displaced have worsened over time. Shelter, food, and employment for IDPs and refugees remain in very short supply because of "a major lack of funding for humanitarian relief." A two-year IOM appeal to assist Iraq’s internally displaced is still only 28 per cent funded. Over 75 per cent of IDPs do not get government food rations, and nearly 20 per cent are without clean water; 33 per cent do not get the medical help they need. Only 20 per cent has received any assistance from a nongovernmental organization or an international humanitarian agency.

None of Iraq's provincial authorities has the capacity to deal with the situation, and some have refused to accept any new flows of displaced people. Neighboring countries "have imposed strict visa requirements that also restrict Iraqis from fleeing the country."

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