Friday, April 16, 2010

Iraq: Four years after bombing of Al-Askari Mosque, needs for displaced and returning families linger

Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM) - Four years after the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in the northern city of Samarra, which triggered an unprecedented wave of sectarian violence and large scale displacement, tens of thousands of families have returned to their places of origin and new displacements have all but stopped, according to a new IOM report released today.

However, the report, which is based on assessments carried out over the past four years by IOM monitors with more than 220,000 displaced and 5,700 returning families, underlines the need for continued humanitarian assistance for vulnerable displaced families and sustainable solutions for those who wish to return, resettle, or integrate into their current locations.

According to the report, improved security, combined with difficult conditions in areas of displacement and governmental financial incentives for retuning families have led to the return of more than 62,000 displaced families (374,000 individuals) since mid-2007.

It finds that the majority of returns (58%) occur from within the same governorate and mainly to the Baghdad governorate. A smaller but significant percentage (23%) of families have returned from other governorates, such as Diyala and Anbar, and 19% of returnees have come back from outside the country, mainly from neighbouring Jordan and Syria.

When asked about their reasons for return, 48% of interviewees mentioned improved security in the place of origin, 12% site difficult living conditions in areas of displacement, and 26% said they were influenced by a combination of these two factors

Furthermore, assessments show that 49% of all post-Samarra Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would like to return to their places of origin, 29% would like to remain and integrate into their current places of displacement, and 19% would like to relocate in a third location.

The report notes that new displacements are rare, although small flows continue along the disputed internal boundaries in the north and due to drought and desertification.

Most recently, targeted assassinations of Christian families in Mosul resulted in more than 1,000 Christian families fleeing Mosul for nearby locations in Ninewa, Erbil, Dahuk and Kirkuk.

Four years after the Samaara bombing, the largest group of displaced families (36%) lives in Baghdad, whilst the governorates of Diyala, Ninewa, and Dahuk continue to host significant displaced populations.

When asked about their most pressing needs, post-Samarra IDPs overwhelmingly name access to work (73%), shelter (62%), and food (61%). Water, health care, and legal help are also chief concerns.

The majority (58%) of the IOM-assessed displaced families live in rented accommodations, which puts a strain on overstretched household budgets. Almost a third of the most vulnerable IDPs continue to live in public buildings, old military encampments, or crude group squatter settlements with hand-built houses on publicly or privately owned land. Less than 1% live in tent camps.

Shelter is also a major issue for returning families, as some return to partially or completely destroyed property, while others need legal assistance to reclaim their properties.

According to current IOM displacement monitoring, only 9% of post-Samarra IDPs are certain that they have access to the property they left behind. Another 31% do not have any access, primarily because the property is occupied or destroyed. 28% of surveyed IDPs have not been able to find out the status of their property, often for security reasons.

Access to food remains problematic, with less than half of the post-Samarra displaced families having access to the government's Public Distribution System. Returning families also list access to water (36%), fuel (35%), and access to work (34%) as important concerns.

Access to health care remains a serious concern for IDPs and returnees across Iraq because of their frequently precarious living situations without access to potable water, protection from the elements, or sewage disposal.

While 86% of IDPs nationwide report access to health care, this does not ensure that the health care is of good quality, or that the health care facilities have the necessary qualified staff, medicine, and equipment. Furthermore, health care services in Iraq have deteriorated greatly over the past four years due to the exodus of qualified professionals, a severe shortage of medication and equipment, and damage to existing medical facilities.

Since 2006, IOM has successfully assisted IDPs, returnees, and host community families in every governorate of Iraq, implementing 454 projects totalling over SUD 48 million. For the period 2010-2011, the IOM Iraq mission requires USD 90 million for the following programmes: community stabilization; return and reintegration; emergency preparedness, information management, capacity building and community regeneration and private sector development.

The report is available online

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