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Iraq Drafts Plan To Help IDPs, Refugees

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

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

BAGHDAD -- A senior Iraqi official for migration issues says the government plans to resolve the problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs) within a year and create conditions to encourage the return of refugees from neighboring countries, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Judge Asghar al-Mussawi, Iraq's deputy minister of migration and displacement, told RFI that a plan is in place to resolve the IDP problem within a year, although the reintegration of IDPs may take longer.

On January 24, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in Baghdad "I hope that we might be witnessing the beginning of the end of the Iraqi refugee and displacement crisis."

Mussawi said the current situation allows for finally resolving the IDP crisis by returning such people to their homes, integrating them into their new communities, or relocating them to other areas in agreement with the respective local authorities.

He pointed out that the Migration and Displacement Ministry "is closely working with the UN refugees agency, which is helping these efforts by, among other things, building low-cost homes for the returnees."

Mussawi said the plan includes, above all, securing the areas that IDPs return to and such forms of assistance as easy short-term loans, reinstatement in their former jobs, and providing adequate services and reintegration programs.

He said surveys have been carried out in the Nineveh Plain to address more urgent cases involving the displacement of Christians in that part of Iraq.

As for Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, Mussawi said the Migration and Displacement Ministry is doing all it can to create conditions conducive to their return, but the final decision is theirs. He added that the ministry "condemns all forms of forcible repatriation by other countries."

Former Migration and Displacement Minister Pascal Esho Warda told RFI that the ministry's plans look good on paper but there is no real coordinated effort involving other ministries such as the security agencies, the Electricity Ministry, etc.

She said "most Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries want to return, but there is nothing to return to, as security is still precarious, utilities are in a dire state, and housing is a serious impediment."

The UNHCR says some 90,000 refugees have returned to Iraq over the past three years as security has improved, but Guterres acknowledged that Iraq faces a new outflow, as Christians and other minorities have fled a recent spate of deadly attacks.

Guterres, who met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on his visit, said he is encouraged by their deep concern about IDPs and refugees.

Almost 200,000 Iraqis are registered as refugees with the UNHCR, mainly in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The agency estimates that another 1.3 million Iraqis are internally displaced, with 500,000 of them living in extremely poor conditions.