Following President Barack Obama’s affirmation that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end on August 31, Human Rights First is urging President Obama to lay out his administration’s plan for finding solutions for displaced Iraqis and strengthening protection for the nation’s minority groups. The organization notes that improving conditions for displaced Iraqis will ultimately strengthen Iraq’s long-term stability and security.”Last year, President Obama spoke about the millions of Iraqis who remain displaced as a result of conflict and noted that ‘there are few more powerful indicators of lasting peace than displaced citizens returning home’,” said Human Rights First’s Jesse Bernstein. “During the drawdown and in the years ahead, the United States has an obligation to work with the Iraqi government to establish reintegration policies and programs to help the more than 1 million Iraqis who are displaced within their own country. Many displaced Iraqis live with limited access to housing and basic services such as water, electricity and heath care. This is a serious human rights problem that deserves high level attention in the months ahead as the United States shifts from a combat mission to a diplomatic mission.”
According to the UN refugee agency, there are some 1.5 million people displaced within Iraq, and roughly 200,000 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR throughout the region. In 2009, approximately 37,000 Iraqi refugees returned as a result of improved security conditions in parts of Iraq coupled with the lack of economic opportunities in countries of first asylum. Approximately 165,000 people displaced within Iraq have attempted to return to their home areas. All of these returnees face a serious lack of basic necessities and employment opportunities. Beyond these struggles, both returnees and displaced communities live in constant fear of violence.
In July 2008, the Iraqi Government launched a National Policy on Displacement, which calls for the development of a work plan to respond to all aspects of displacement. Human Rights First remains concerned that, to date, this plan has not been fully developed or implemented. The Iraqi government does provide limited assistance to returnees, primarily by issuing cash grants, but returnees often have difficulty accessing this assistance due to rigid eligibility requirements and a highly bureaucratic registration process.
“The lack of an Iraqi work plan to support solutions for displaced Iraqis is a glaring gap. And providing such solutions is essential to building a stable Iraq. The U.S. and the international community must continue to support Iraq’s incoming government in meaningful efforts to develop a practical plan that clearly identifies needs and solutions, and prioritizes human rights and security protections for returnees and displaced persons,” said Bernstein. “The U.S. must also continue to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, and urge countries in the region to maintain effective protection for all Iraqi refugees who do not feel safe returning to Iraq.”
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