“I will never believe in differences between people,” the young man said. “I am a Sunni and my wife is a Shi’a. I received threats to divorce her or be killed. We have left Dora now [a once-mixed, now Sunni-dominated neighbourhood in central Baghdad]. My wife is staying with her family in Shaab [a Shi’a area] and I am staying with my friends in Mansur [a Sunni area]. I am trying to find a different house but it’s difficult now to find a place that accepts both of us in Baghdad.”
Incessant violence across much of Iraq's central and southern regions is forcing thousands of people to leave their homes every month. The international community is facing a much larger and more complex humanitarian crisis than anyone could have anticipated.
Almost two million Iraqis have been displaced within the borders of their own country, more than 700,000 of them in the past fourteen months. Reports indicate that internal displacement is continuing and that, unless peace and stability are restored soon, the number of IDPs will increase.
The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) is responsible for all matters related to migrants and refugees in Iraq, both Iraqis and non-Iraqis.
The presence of large numbers of Iraqi citizens is costing Jordan an estimated one billion dollars per annum. Like other neighbouring states, we require urgent assistance to enable our national institutions to continue to provide services to Iraqi citizens residing in Jordan.
Since spring 2003 the region has seen a massive migratory movement from Iraq into its neighbouring countries. Syria is the primary destination of refugees due to the historical relations between the two countries, and because the regulations in force do not require them to obtain an entrance visa.
Both a durable solution and an instrument of protection, resettlement is available to only a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees. UNHCR has launched a large-scale resettlement programme for Iraqi refugees but places are limited and it is the degree of ‘vulnerability’ that will ultimately determine prospects for resettlement.
There are strong humanitarian reasons and close ties that underpin a Swedish commitment to Iraq. More than 100,000 Iraqis are living in Sweden and the numbers are rising. Europe could do more to provide humanitarian assistance and assist Iraqi refugees.
Now that the international community is belatedly paying attention to the existence of an estimated two million Iraqi refugees, Iraq’s neighbours are closing off escape routes while the US and UK provide no meaningful support to refugees or the countries hosting them. Millions of IDPs and other war-affected and persecuted Iraqis are trapped and denied the fundamental right to seek asylum.
The plight of Iraqi refugees is grave but is the tip of the iceberg of Iraq’s gathering humanitarian crisis. The (grossly under-reported) plight of those still in Iraq is even more worrying. Despite the insecure environment and numerous constraints, humanitarian intervention in Iraq is on-going, possible and greatly needed.
Civilians bear the brunt of Iraq’s relentless violence. Appalling daily casualties that would be considered unacceptable elsewhere have become routine. The country is confronted with a grave failure to ensure respect and protection for the lives and dignity of millions of civilians not taking part in the ongoing violence.
I have worked with Iraqi colleagues to interview beneficiaries and providers of assistance from all of Iraq’s many religious-ethnic communities. We find firm evidence of commitment to the humanitarian ethos in Iraq but grave concerns over the modus operandi of many 'humanitarian' operators. There are few systematic efforts to bridge the ethos-practice gap.
There are no official statistics, but there may be more than 40,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon already hosts some 400,000 Palestinians for whom no durable solution is in sight. In the absence of a policy response, there is a danger of the Iraqi refugees becoming ‘Palestinised’ – left in limbo in the Levant?
Since the fall of the former government, Iraqis have primarily fled their homes because of sectarian and generalised violence. However, counter-insurgency operations by the US military and their Iraqi allies continue to be a significant cause of death, destruction and internal displacement in parts of Iraq.
Iraqi women are being attacked in the name of religion. The gendered dimension of sectarian conflict – derived from women’s role in cultural and biological reproduction and as symbols of group identity – is exposing them to crimes which constitute an open wound for humanity.
For years the lives of Iraqi women have been framed by state oppression, economic sanctions and three wars. US-led calls for liberation may in the long term serve to further oppress them.
Iraq’s ruinous wars, crippling sanctions and ongoing violence have had a devastating effect on children. Shootings and bombings have killed, injured and orphaned thousand, but the biggest killer is illness transmitted through unclean water and exacerbated by under-nutrition.
The Assyrians, the last concentrated pocket of Assyrio-Aramaic-speaking people in the world, are the victims of a systematic religious and ethnic cleansing which is going largely unnoticed.
Displaced Iraqi children – both those inside Iraq and in neighbouring states – are being denied their right to education. It is vital to gather accurate data on displaced children and to engage children and adults in displaced communities in pragmatic ways to provide education despite the current circumstances.
The neglected humanitarian crisis of internal displacement requires a renewed commitment by donors and an immediate and robust intervention by the international community.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) is among the few organisations working to assist displaced persons throughout Iraq.
Given the dramatic deterioration in the situation in Iraq over the last four years, the British NGO Ockenden International has had to re-design its legal aid and protection activities in order to target the displaced Iraqis who have been fleeing the sectarian violence since February 2006.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been assessing IDPs in Iraq since 2003. IOM is a member of the UN Country Team for Iraq, and works closely with the UN Cluster system and the Iraqi authorities.