Incessant violence across much of Iraq's central and southern regions is forcing thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a looming humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war.
UNHCR estimates there are some 1.9 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 2 million in neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. Many were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now. Egypt hosts an estimated Iraqi population of more than 100,000, and in 2006 Iraqis had become the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe.
Much of UNHCR's work in the first three years since the fall of the previous Iraqi regime was based on the assumption that the domestic situation would stabilise and hundreds of thousands of previously displaced Iraqis would soon be able to go home. In 2006, however, spiralling violence led to increasing displacement, necessitating a reassessment of UNHCR's work and its priorities throughout the region - from assisting returns and aiding some 50,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq, to providing more help to the thousands who are fleeing every month.
Between 2003 and 2005, some 300,000 Iraqis did return home, including from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries. Now, however, the returns have stopped and many more people are fleeing, including large numbers of skilled professionals crucial to Iraq's recovery.
In addition to those outside the country, more than 700,000 Iraqis have fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq since early 2006, most of them following sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of an important Shia mosque in February of that year. By early 2007, internal displacement was estimated to be continuing at a rate of up to 50,000 a month.
This displacement amid the continuing violence in Iraq is presenting an enormous humanitarian challenge and extreme hardship for both the displaced and the Iraqi families trying to help them in host communities. The enormous scale of the needs, the violence and the difficulties in reaching the displaced make it a problem that is practically beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR. And the longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets as both the internally displaced and their host communities in Iraq run out of resources.
Many uprooted Iraqis fleeing to surrounding countries do not initially seek UNHCR help, but rely instead on a social net of friends and relatives which UNHCR worries is rapidly wearing thin, bringing rising social problems among the exiles and occasional friction with host communities. The refugee agency is thus adapting its work in the region to provide more help to those displaced by the continuing violence, particularly the most vulnerable such as female-headed households, the elderly, children and families who have run out of resources. UNHCR is also very worried for the estimated 20,000 Palestinian refugees who are believed to remain in Iraq. The country's Christians and other minority communities are also under threat.
... Payvand News - 3/27/07 ... --