Today's editorial from the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq highlights the need for the international community and the government of Iraq to address the root causes of the displacement crisis.
"The Iraqi authorities and the international community have been rendered in a difficult situation, facing a unique situation of a massive humanitarian crisis amidst a post-conflict early recovery context; adaptation took a long time and the response has been more of a treatment of symptoms than the root causes."
The steps necessary are outlined in the document 'Healing the Wounds of War.'
Responding to the Iraqi displacement problem:
A ‘National Priority’ that will lead to ‘National Unity’
NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI): Editorial, 26 June 2008
During the past five years, Iraq witnessed a horrific and overwhelming wave of displacement that affected almost all Iraqi communities; according to reports from The UN, IOM, and the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, there are currently 2.7 Million Iraqis displaced in Iraq and estimates of another 2 Millions displaced in neighbouring countries and an alarming increasing in numbers of Iraqis seeking refuge in Europe and North America. Roughly, 20% of the population of Iraq are displaced; this makes it the biggest displacement crisis in the world today.
Displacement is not new to Iraq. Throughout the last three decades, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by wars, internal conflicts and oppression, in addition to natural disasters and economic reasons; these displaced groups grasped the opportunity they saw in the aftermath of the US led invasion back in 2003 to return to their country and to try to integrate within their society and re-start their lives, unfortunately in the absence of durable solutions and political will, and as a result of prevailing violence and sectarianism, they found themselves being displaced again, and again, and gain …and again.
The Iraqi authorities and the international community have been rendered in a difficult situation, facing a unique situation of a massive humanitarian crisis amidst a post-conflict early recovery context; adaptation took a long time and the response has been more of a treatment of symptoms than the root causes.
Iraqis who have moved to countries neighbouring Iraq are living daily with the fear of deportation and are being used as political leverage, their vulnerability is worsened by the fact that they too have spent their savings and lost their properties, investments and businesses and are living with very little external assistance from the international community despite their well-publicised situation. Iraqis who have applied for asylum in European or North American countries have been hanging in a limbo for a long time due to international politics and prejudices4, living in fear of forced return to a country they love with all their hearts and fear with all their senses.
Despite the well-publicised improvement in the security situation in different parts of the country, additional problems are preventing the return of the displaced; 70% of homes left empty by displaced families have been occupied by other families or damaged in armed conflict or sectarian-motivated rival attacks, previously mixed communities have become homogenous and not receptive to the idea of people from other sects or ethnicities return, families that were displaced have started to integrate within their host communities and are reluctant to risk returning to their original places, in addition to hesitance on how long the fragile improvement in security will last and the fact that these families do not want to risk facing the same threats and terror they have experienced and that led them to become displaced.
Third country nationals, such as Sudanese, Palestinians, Iranians, Turks and others, who have sought refuge in Iraq in the past are not in a better situation, they find themselves extremely vulnerable and helpless in a situation that has been forced on them, they feel intimidated and threatened by the conflict of the past five years.
NGOs, ICRC, UN agencies and other charities have considered assistance of the displaced a priority, they focused the majority of their operations in/on Iraq to assist vulnerable groups within the displaced populations, yet the gap is too big to fill; in the absence of international and governmental support to displaced groups and their strained host communities, the situation will only lead to dramatic ‘snow-ball’ effects on the stability, welfare and hopes of the Iraqi society.
Humanitarian assistance to the displaced continues to be the overarching priority; the savings that many of those displaced have depended upon to pay for rent and expenses have started to run out, impoverishment and vulnerability are now common complaints among displaced communities, food insecurity is a challenge resulting from the lack of coping mechanisms; the need for protection from violence and evictions has increased in view of the deterioration of security conditions and weariness of local authorities in parts of the country that were seen as save havens for people in need of safety … and dignity.
We take the opportunity of the ‘World Refugee Day’ to call on the international community to provide more assistance and durable solutions to Iraqis displaced inside or refugees outside Iraq.
We also call on the Iraqi Government to consider the displacement crisis a ‘National Priority’ that over-rides al other challenges and benchmarks.