Iraqi refugees regret going home, UNHCR survey finds

By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – A majority of Iraqi refugees who have returned from exile to Baghdad regret their decision, saying they face insecurity, a lack of jobs and inadequate health care, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Some 61 percent of those interviewed were sorry they had left Syria and Jordan, while one in three was unsure of staying in Iraq, according to its recently-completed survey of 2,353 Iraqis who returned to the capital between 2007 and 2008.
“UNHCR staff were informed by returnees of numerous instances of explosions, harassment, military operations and kidnapping occurring in their areas of return,” Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.
Although many returnees said they had left their host countries because they could no longer afford the cost of living there, some 87 percent said their income in Iraq was insufficient to cover their families’ needs.
“One of the principal challenges we found for Iraqi returnees is finding regular employment, making them reliant on irregular jobs, which are often not available,” Fleming said.
Separate polls of a total of 3,500 Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan, released on October 8, found most still reluctant to return home on a permanent basis, according to the UNHCR.
Refugees cited political uncertainty and insecurity in Iraq, as well as poor educational opportunities and housing shortages. Syria and Jordan host some 180,000 registered Iraqi refugees.
While violence has plunged from the height of sectarian bloodshed in 2006-2007, explosions and attacks happen daily. Bombs destroyed the home of a senior Iraqi police commander on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people in the northern city of Tikrit, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, police said.
The UNHCR does not promote returns to Iraq, due to insecurity, and its guidelines to all governments strongly recommend that Iraqis should not be sent home to five central provinces, including Baghdad, seen as too dangerous.
However, it helps refugees who voluntarily want to go home, providing them with transport costs and a small cash grant.
Fewer than 3,000 have taken up the offer since 2007, though many have returned without its support, according to the agency.
“Iraqi refugees are the best judges of when to go back. Basically they are voting with their feet,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes.
The UNHCR also said that it remained concerned by forced deportations of failed Iraqi asylum seekers from five countries in Europe (Britain, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden).
It knew of seven chartered flights, coordinated by the European Union border agency FRONTEX, believed to have flown several hundred Iraqis back to their homeland since June.
“We would very much like to have a fuller picture of who is being returned and where,” Wilkes said. “We hear from various countries that they plan to continue returns but we don’t know when.”
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