IDP and Refugee Return to Northern Iraq: Sustainable Returns or Demographic Bombs?

David Romano

Abstract


Regime change in Iraq has opened the door to the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the majority of whom were expelled from Kirkuk and other areas in northern Iraq. The Iraqi case presents three broad, readily identifiable categories of displaced persons: refugees in Iraq's neighbouring states, internally displaced persons, and refugees and migrants in third countries further afield. The first two categories include the largest numbers of displaced people as well as the majority of those with a great desire or pressing need to return to their homelands in Iraq. Although some of those displaced have succeeded in making a good life for themselves in their new new homes, those who did not manage well after their displacement generally long to return to their original towns and homes. However, the following general problems, in order of gravity, impede the success and sustainability of returns to northern Iraq: (i) sectarian competition over political structures and power distributions in post-Saddam Iraq; (ii) increasing lack of security in Iraq; (iii) insufficient preparations and slow policy implementation by the former CPA and Coalition Forces; (iv) insufficient financial resources to deal with the full magnitude of the displacement problem in Iraq; and (v) high expectations of returnees vis-a-vis continuing lack of opportunities and the slow rate of positive developments in the social, economic and political situation in Iraq. However, the emerging political contests over the future of the new Iraq greatly complicate effective and comprehensive return programs; the ultimate test of success and sustainability of return to Iraq will depend on the future of post-Saddam Iraq itself.

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