Calling Iraq Home

Today we’re starting a three-part series on internal displacement in Iraq.

With some recent reports about alleged brutalities in Afghanistan, international news has refocused for a bit on some of the casualties of the wars taking place in the Middle East. War and forced migration go together as a common casualty of war. Inevitably, ongoing violence and conflict will breed homelessness and wandering.

Iraq is no exception. Since 2003, almost 5 million Iraqi civilians have been displaced.

And since 2006, the number of internally displaced people (IDP) – displaced people still living somewhere in Iraq – has risen to over 1.6 million – nearly 6% of the population.

Many IDP families flee religious persecution and civil conflict, while others flee revenge from their communities for having helped the United States. In other words, the causes are complex and varied. But regardless of their reasons for leaving, 6% of the population has left their place of origin but remained somewhere in Iraq, albeit far from home.

Palestinian Iraqi IDP family near Jordanian border – public domain

Most common reasons cited for internal displacement in Iraq:

  • Direct threats to life – 52%
  • Left out of fear – 20%
  • Generalized violence – 13%
  • Armed conflict – 6%
  • Forced displacement from property – 5%
  • Ethnic/religious/political discrimination – 4%

Many internally displaced Iraqis would like to settle where they are, often because the place where they fled offers education or work opportunities, safety, or shared religious beliefs. In fact, 37% of IDP families currently intend to resettle in their current location.

Another large group (17%) hopes to resettle in a third location as refugees. Countries all over the world host Iraqi refugees, but the largest communities have settled in Syria and Jordan. Unfortunately many if not most host countries have been criticized for poor treatment of Iraqi refugees, including the United States, which has been criticized for not welcoming enough Iraqis who are leaving because of threats to their lives for helping the allied forces.

The last group of IDP families hope to return to their homes of origin. Their reasons for returning are less varied as the reasons for leaving, and in most cases are hypothetical (“I would return if”):

  • Security has improved – 53%
  • Conditions are too difficult where I am – 10%
  • A combination of these two factors – 24%

IDP needs span every aspect of life in Iraq and closely mirror the needs of the general population. In order of importance to surveyed IDP families, the needs are:

  • Food
  • Health
  • Water
  • Access to Work
  • Fuel
  • Non-food items
  • Legal help
  • Shelter
  • Hygiene
  • Sanitation
  • Education
  • Other

Many of these needs are closely intertwined, which we’ll be talking about more later this week.

Currently, aid workers are fighting to limit secondary displacement – a form of forced migration in which displaced families have to move a second time. Secondary displacement happens because their camp or village does not provide what they need to live or refuses to allow them to stay. In Iraq, a majority of IDP families have shelter, but they rent their small mud huts from local governments, so they are at great risk of eviction whenever the political environment changes.

And in Iraq, the political environment changes every day.

Any questions or thoughts about displacement in Iraq? Share them in the comments!

For more information on this topic, see the recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) IOM Iraq: Review of Displacement and Return in Iraq, August 2010.

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