The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said it is concerned about funding levels for its programmes for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq.
On 29 April UNHCR said it had received just under half of the US$261 million it had requested in January to be able to assist Iraqi IDPs and refugees abroad.
The UNHCR said the amount received was not enough to sustain its programmes in the second half of 2008. As of 22 April, Iraq programme donors included the USA ($95.4 million), Canada ($1.5 million), the UK ($6.2 million), Germany ($3.9 million), Sweden ($2.3 million), Finland ($1.5 million), the European Commission ($6.3 million), Kuwait ($1 million), France ($740,000), Switzerland ($702,000), Italy ($292,000), and private donors ($109,000).
Sybella Wilkes, UNHCR's regional public information officer, told IRIN on 30 April the UNHCR was not yet talking about scaling down its aid programmes for Iraqi refugees and IDPs because it was aware that different donors had different funding cycles, and it hoped further funds would be available after June.
However, Wilkes said: "If no funds are available it will really hurt the most vulnerable Iraqis...It would really make a difference between surviving and not surviving."
At present, some 12,000 people (mostly heads of families) receive monthly financial assistance of US$100-$200 to meet their most urgent needs. Their position will be dire should the funds not materialise.
Wilkes said that while in September 2007, some 33,000 people needed food aid, the number had now risen to over 110,000. "By the end of the year that would increase by tens of thousands," she said.
At a Geneva press briefing on 29 April UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis released the results of a UNHCR-commissioned survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis in Syria. The survey said 95 percent of the Iraqis said they had fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity, and that only 4 percent planned to return to Iraq.
|Survey of 994 Iraqis
living in Syria
|95% fled Iraq because of direct threats (65%) or general insecurity (30%)|
|2% left Iraq before 2003|
|44% left between 2003-2006|
|54% left after 2006|
|94% had a valid residency permit|
|4% planned to return to Iraq|
|89.5% not planning to return|
|6.5% do not know if they will return|
|Source: UNHCR by way of the IPSOS market research agency in Syria|
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, 4.7 million Iraqis have abandoned their homes. Of these, over 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries - mostly Syria and Jordan - while 2.7 million are IDPs.
The latest assessment on returns to Iraq was carried out for the UNHCR by the IPSOS market research agency in Syria, 2-18 March. In total, 994 Iraqi refugees were interviewed in Damascus at UNHCR's registration and food distribution sites, in community centres or during home visits, Pagonis said.
Of those interviewed 86 percent were registered with UNHCR, while 14 percent had not yet been registered. A total of 95 percent said they had fled Iraq in recent years, either due to direct threats (65 percent) or general insecurity (30 percent). Some 2 percent had left Iraq before 2003; 44 percent between 2003 and 2006; and 54 percent after 2006. A total of 94 percent had a valid residency permit in Syria.
According to the survey, only 39 out of 994 people - 4 percent - are planning to return to Iraq. Of the 39 people, 31 percent plan to return within the next 12 months and the remainder has not set a date. A total of 89.5 percent (890 out of 994) are not planning to return to Iraq, while 6.5 percent (65 out of 994) do not know if they are returning to Iraq.
The UNHCR said: "The survey demonstrated not only the highly mobile nature of this population, with 34 percent having visited Iraq once or twice in the last year, but also Iraqis are in touch with their home areas and people who have returned voluntarily."
The survey further shows that of the 27 percent who report knowing people who have already returned to Iraq, 62 percent are still in contact. "Of those Iraqis who knew people who had returned, 77 percent provided feedback that stated that the conditions at home were not satisfactory for a variety of reasons", said the UNHCR.
Some 61 percent said they did not wish to return because they would be under direct threat in Iraq; 29 percent did not want to return because of the general insecurity in Iraq; 8 percent said their home in Iraq had been destroyed or was occupied by others; 1 percent said they had no job in Iraq; and 1 percent said they no longer had any relatives left at home.
A similar survey was conducted in Jordan, where a smaller number of Iraqis (400) were interviewed during the first three weeks of March. The results of that survey are still being analysed.