For Immediate Release: March 4, 2010
Washington, DC Following this Sunday’s nationwide parliamentary election in Iraq, Human Rights First is urging the U.S. government to robustly lead international efforts to support incoming Iraqi lawmakers in finding solutions for displaced Iraqis and strengthening protection for the nation’s minority groups. The organization notes that improving conditions for displaced Iraqis will ultimately strengthen Iraq’s long-term stability and security.
“More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced within their own country, and many of them are struggling to access housing and basic services such as water, electricity and heath care. This is a serious human rights problem that deserves a meaningful response from Iraq, with the support of the international community,” said Human Rights First’s Jesse Bernstein. “Immediately following this weekend’s election, protection, return, and reintegration of displaced Iraqis must be prioritized in discussions between the newly elected government and the international community. The Iraqi government should take ownership of reintegration policies and programs, but it will need the support of the United States and other nations.”
According to the UN refugee agency, there are some 2.7 million people displaced within Iraq, and another 290,000 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR throughout the region. In 2009, approximately 37,000 Iraqi refugees returned as a result of improved security conditions in parts of Iraq coupled with the lack of economic opportunities in countries of first asylum. Approximately 160,000 people displaced within Iraq have attempted to return to their home areas. All of these returnees face a serious lack of basic necessities and employment opportunities.
Beyond these struggles, both returnees and displaced communities live in constant fear of violence. “The deadly October and December 2009 attacks committed against the Iraqi government in Baghdad are vivid reminders of the tenuous state of security and protection inside Iraq,” observed Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. ”Displaced Iraqis simply cannot return to their homes safely without strengthened security and human rights protections in their country, a reality that underscores the need for continued humanitarian assistance for Iraqi refugees in the region.”
Armed groups within Iraq continue to perpetrate violent attacks with impunity, often targeting vulnerable groups including women and girls, religious minorities, and men suspected of homosexual conduct. While security has slightly improved in parts of Iraq, this ongoing violence continues to be identified as a primary factor impeding a large-scale return of refugees.
In July 2008, the Iraqi Government launched a National Policy on Displacement, which calls for the development of a work plan to respond to all aspects of displacement. Human Rights First today raised concerns that, to date, this plan has not been fully developed or implemented. The Iraqi government does provide limited assistance to returnees, primarily by issuing cash grants, but returnees often have difficulty accessing this assistance due to rigid eligibility requirements and a highly bureaucratic registration process.
“Sustainable return and reintegration of displaced Iraqis are essential components of building a stable Iraq. The U.S. and the international community must support Iraq’s incoming government in meaningful efforts to develop a practical return plan that clearly identifies needs and solutions, and prioritizes human rights and security protections for returnees and displaced persons,” said Bernstein. “The U.S. must also continue to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, and urge countries in the region to maintain effective protection for all Iraqi refugees who do not feel safe to return to Iraq.”