The International Organization for Migration says Iraq is still facing a humanitarian crisis despite decreasing levels of violence, a drop in the number of people fleeing their homes and a limited number of people returning. IOM reports nearly 2.5 million Iraqis are internally displaced and some 2 million are living as refugees in Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the majority of Iraq's internally displaced fled their homes following the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samara in February 2006.
In a new report, the IOM says the number of people leaving their homes in search of a safe haven slowed significantly in 2007 because of a drop in violence. In fact, according to the IOM report, an increasing number of internally displaced people and refugees have been returning to their places of origin.
But, IOM spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, tells VOA the number of people returning home remains very small. For example, he notes only eight percent of those who fled Baghdad have gone back.
"There are some challenges associated with those returns. For instance, the report finds out that more than 30 percent of the displaced claimed that their property is currently occupied by private citizens," he noted. "That means that there will be numerous settlements regarding legal disputes over property. There are property issues that need to be addressed if the return movement continues or increases in 2008."
According to the IOM report, 65 percent of the displaced people surveyed come from Baghdad, followed by Diyala, Anbar, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din. Most say they fled direct threats to their lives.
Chauzy says the longer the displacement crisis goes on, the worse the situation is becoming for these vulnerable people. He says many cannot afford to pay for even substandard shelter. He says they have little access to basic services, such as clean water, sanitation and electricity.
"We find for instance, that only 22 percent of the internally displaced have regular access to food distributions," he added. "We know that this with inadequate shelter, with poor services is causing major chronic health problems-malnutrition amongst women, children and the elderly. We also know that some of the displaced or more particularly vulnerable-female-headed households that require increased attention as the assistance is being delivered to those displaced communities throughout Iraq."
The IOM report notes the availability and quality of healthcare in Iraq dramatically deteriorated in 2007 because of the continued exodus of qualified professionals, severe shortage of medical equipment and damaged infrastructure.
Health workers and IOM monitors report a rise in the number of unattended births, miscarriages and prostitution. They say many displaced Iraqis are psychologically traumatized from their experiences.