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Iraqi Official Says IDPs, Refugees Returning Home

Iraqis stand outside a shelter at Umm Al-Banin camp, one of the UNHCR's 94 camps for internally displaced people, in Baghdad in January.

Iraqis stand outside a shelter at Umm Al-Banin camp, one of the UNHCR's 94 camps for internally displaced people, in Baghdad in January.

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi official says that internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees are returning to their homes in a sign that a government plan is working, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.

Judge Asghar al-Musawi, deputy minister of migration and displacement, told RFE/RL that nearly 89,500 families had returned to their homes since a ministry "return program" was launched in 2008. He said most of the returnees were IDPs but that many refugees had also returned from abroad.

Musawi said the figures were based only on those returnees who have registered with the government but there are many others who have not officially reported their return. He said the ministry would soon carry out surveys to ascertain the total number of refugees who have come back to Iraq.

The highest number of returnees has come to Baghdad and the lowest number has settled in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city. Musawi said such statistics showed that security is still a major concern to possible returnees.

Musawi said the cash grant received by each family upon its return would be increased from 1 million dinars ($849) to 3 million dinars (about $2,546), excluding other benefits the returnees are entitled to under the reintegration plan.

He said talks were under way with the Foreign Ministry to open migration and displacement offices in countries where there are large Iraqi refugee communities.

Musawi admitted that although his ministry's 2011 budget had been increased by 100 billion dinars to 312 billion (some $268 million), it was insufficient to fulfill the ministry's plans for speeding up the reintegration of returnees and encouraging others to return.

But he added that he was optimistic to find other resources to offset the shortfall, including assistance from the international community, especially the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidai says that he is very skeptical of the Migration and Displacement Ministry's declared goal of ending the country's problem with IDPs and refugees by the end of this year.

Sumaidai says that neither the ministry, with its limited resources, nor the government as a whole can resolve this problem as long as there are insurgent groups creating insecurity and discouraging plans by refugees or IDPs to return to their homes.

The UNHCR, Refugees International, and the Brookings Institution agree on a base figure of some 1.5 million IDPs in Iraq, 500,000 of whom live in poverty.

Of the returnees registered with the International Organization for Migration, 86 percent are IDPs but overall numbers of returnees are said to be low.