A program is under way to help and encourage skilled Iraqi expatriates to return home for a period of time to help rebuild their country.   The program is a joint initiative of Iraq's ministry of planning and development, the International Organization for Migration and the UN's Development Program.

The program has attracted a lot of interest since it began in September.  A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Jemini Pandya, says more than 400 Iraqis living abroad have applied.   She says 60 people will be selected to work in various Iraqi ministries for periods ranging from three months to a year.

"Academics are in particularly high demand, especially for the upcoming academic year beginning in September for universities and also for training medical staff who are urgently needed across the country," she noted.  "Because of the ongoing security concerns in Iraq, many of the development programs have actually been put on hold.  However, this particular program that is encouraging the diaspora to return is one of the few that is functioning." 

Continued violence and conflict in Iraq has led to the "brain drain" of many of the country's top professionals.  The United Nations estimates at least one million Iraqis have fled as refugees to neighboring countries since the first Gulf War in 1991.  Thousands of others have traveled further.  Another one million people are internally displaced. 

Pandya says interested candidates have applied to return from a number of countries, including Britain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Lebanon.  She says about one third of the people have asked to be assigned to Baghdad, a quarter to northern Iraq and the remainder across the rest of the country.

"One of the examples that we give in this story is of a child psychologist, an Iraqi expatriate who has been living in Sweden and working as a senior lecturer in a Swedish university, who is going to be going back to northern Iraq to work with the University department on child psychology.  It is an area that is quite new to the country," she added.  "But, he estimates that there is about 40 percent of Iraqi children are already, a minimum of 40 percent, are facing post-traumatic stress disorder and it is a field that needs urgently to be looked at." 

Pandya says the program is being extended until 2007.  But final placements will be made in November this year.  She says this program is one of the very few opportunities that exists for Iraqis abroad to do something constructive for their country.