The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Iraq is still too fragile to absorb the more than 1.5 million Iraqis living outside the country. The UNHCR says security has generally improved. But, it warns conditions are not ripe for a massive return of refugees.
The UN refugee agency is appealing to the international community to maintain its support for Iraq. It says the country currently is in a difficult and fragile transition phase and remains in urgent need of outside assistance.
UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says security has improved, but it still is not good enough to encourage the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have sought refuge in other countries to return home.
"Although some returns have taken place, many have not been safe or sustainable," he said. "And, it is UNHCR's opinion that Iraqis should not be forced back, which would be detrimental to the safety of those concerned and it would also negatively affect the fragile absorption capacity of Iraq."
There are more than 1.5 million Iraqis outside the country. Most are in Syria and Jordan. In addition, another two million internally displaced people are living in dire conditions within Iraq.
The UNHCR says the Iraqi government is confronting pressing political, economic, electoral and national reconciliation issues.
Spokesman Ron Redmond says the government must implement a number of measures before the smooth return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people can be assured.
"The government needs to make further progress in the implementation of its national policy on displacement and return," he said. "It needs to take decisions on land allocation and property restitution and compensation because a lot of people have lost their homes. It needs to launch a major housing and rehabilitation program that is commensurate with the huge dimensions of the housing problem. So many have been destroyed."
Redmond says the UNHCR is involved in preparations for the return of displaced people and refugees to their homes. At the same time, he says, it continues to run a huge humanitarian operation for Iraqis inside and outside the country.
However, the UNHCR is being hampered in these efforts, he says, by a shortage of money. He says less than half of the agency's $299 million appeal is covered. He warns the UNHCR will not be able to implement certain programs if donors do not come up with more cash soon.