The Current State of the Iraqi Refugee Crisis
New MPI Report Provides Comprehensive Overview of Regional Developments, U.S. Response and the Latest Data
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The financial, social and increasingly political burden of hosting 2.2 million Iraqi refugees has been left to countries in the Middle East, namely Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while 2.3 million internally displaced Iraqis face closed internal borders and dwindling resources. In total, 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes, including those displaced before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
A new MPI report entitled “The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: The Need for Action” breaks down the internally displaced Iraqi population by religion and highlights the key challenges of the Iraqi refugee crisis:
- Sixty-three percent of registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) are Shia Muslim and 32 percent are Sunni Muslim. According to the Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Displacement, almost half the members of Iraq’s non-Muslim minorities have fled abroad.
- By December 2007, fewer than 5,000 Iraqis had departed for various resettlement countries, including the United States, with Sweden accepting the largest number of claims. In fiscal year 2007, only 1,608 Iraqis were admitted as refugees to the United States although the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program had allocated space for 7,000 and UNHCR had made over 10,000 referrals.
- Between September and December 2007, 45,913 Iraqis returned from Syria. Only 14 percent of those surveyed by UNHCR said they returned because of improved security conditions. Almost 70 percent listed inability to afford living in Syria, coupled with stricter visa requirements and the inability to work, as their main motivations for returning.
- Eleven of Iraq’s 18 governorates have restrictions on movement within Iraq, forcing IDPs to return to the violent neighborhoods they were trying to flee. Among the 2.3. million IDPs, religious minorities are particularly at risk, as are former employees of the U.S. and other coalition governments.
- Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are not signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Refugees in those countries have very little legal protection, are banned from working and are subject to changing requirements for entry and stay. Syria introduced visa restrictions October 1, 2007, although some field reports indicate that Iraqis who approach the border can obtain visas there. Jordan closed its borders at the end of 2005, and Saudi Arabia is building a 560-mile fence along the Iraq border.
- As of November 2007, 500 Iraqis were being detained in Lebanon, with UNHCR estimating that 50 to 60 are arrested each month. Detainees are given the option for a “voluntary deportation” where the choice is to stay in jail or return to Iraq.
- Iraqi asylum claims doubled in the first six months of 2007 compared to the first six months of 2006 according to UNHCR. Those who can afford the transnational journey to seek asylum are met with restrictive administrative practices.
The report, which contains maps and tables, is available online here.