UN says Iraqi refugees will be returning home in droves

The Associated Press reports:

BRUSSELS, Belgium — If the security situation in Iraq continues to improve, the number of refugees and displaced people returning to their homes could more than double this year to 500,000, the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday.

After years of extreme violence Iraq is now experiencing markedly improved security, said Daniel Endres, Baghdad representative of the Geneva-based agency.

“Although this security remains fragile, last year we saw a significant return as a result,” he told journalists in Brussels.

More than 220,000 Iraqis who fled abroad or were displaced within the country after the U.S.-led invasion returned home in 2008, according to U.N. statistics.

There are still nearly two million external refugees and 1.6 million internally displaced persons.  Two things should speed up their return.

One, the Iraqi government is taking stronger steps to solve the problems that discourage their return. The first, of course, was the violence, and that is down to a point where it is not a barrier to return. Another big problem is housing.

[The government’s recent action] includes setting up a special army unit charged with evicting militia members and others who moved illegally into homes owned by people forced to flee the violence.

The article doesn’t say if they’re doing this, but the Iraqi government or our government also needs to provide new housing because so much was destroyed during the fighting.

Another problem is jobs, but I believe from little hints I’ve read that the Iraqi economy is recovering nicely. Iraqis have a tradition of entrepreneurship, and that will serve them very well. (Maybe we in America could recover that tradition and get the government to encourage it here instead of taxing and regulating it to death!)  And this will be an important spur to return:

[I]nternational refugee organizations have been encouraged by the government’s recent moves to normalize the situation and encourage returns.

We noted a few weeks ago that one of the big organizations had changed its policy to encourage returns rather than resettlement. And now the UN appears to agree. This is wonderful news. Of course, this being the AP, we have to get the downer at the end:

Many refugees are also reluctant to return because standards of living in places such as Syria and Jordan are much better than in Iraq. Issues such as the lack of basic utilities and services, including perennial electricity shortages and problems with sewage, sanitation and other services, also hinder returns, Endres said.

Are these the same refugees who are in such dire straits in Syria and Jordan that they are selling their women on the streets, as we’ve read so many times?

In my Google alert, where I found this item, only Fox News had picked it up. I’ll look today for coverage in the mainstream media of how this huge problem (which was all America’s fault, of course) is on its way to being solved. But I suspect I won’t find much. Likewise, the Iraqi elections, which are mentioned in the AP article but very little in the rest of the media.

The elections are relevant to the refugee issue in that the Sunnis, who boycotted previous elections, are taking part. It is another sign of normalcy, and also a message to Sunni refugees who fled fearing the Shia majority that they are part of Iraq and will be represented in the government.

One question I have that I think will never be answered: We know that a considerable number of the refugee count consists of supporters of Saddam Hussein who fled when he was overthrown because they feared retribution. I have not read anything about them for a long time, but I would like to know what Iraq is doing about them, if anything. If they become the majority of refugees who do not return, are we going to get them resettled here? Just what we need!

Update January 31: I news-googled “Iraqi refugees” to see what kind of play this story got in the media. Only Fox News and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty came up, though there may be others that picked up the AP story and don’t show up in the search. Most of the stories are about the terrible plight of the Iraqi refugees. I guess that will remain the dominant narrative until the media can give the Obama administration credit for the improvement.

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