Dr. Joost Hiltermann, the deputy director of the Middle East Project at the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Michel Gabaudan, the Regional Representative for the United States from UNHCR discussed the findings of the ICG’s report on the refugee crisis in Iraq.
Dr. Joost stated the surge has frozen in place some sectarian divisions, thereby allowing the refugee crisis to taper off momentarily. However, significant progress on the security front is not sustainable without major progress on the political front. Refugees remain bottled up in hosting countries in a holding pattern without steady sources of income. Depleting sources are also forcing some refugees to leave the host countries and become internally displaced in Iraq. The international community and the Gulf states are not providing sufficient funding or accepting enough refugees. If and when the US withdraws, a second refugee crisis can take place if fighting between factions resumes. The current situation is highly unstable and fragile, and very little progress can be expected without Iran’s and Syria’s involvement. No significant return of refugees can be expected in the next ten years.
Mr. Gabaudan stated that surveys conducted by UNHCR show high percentages of Iraqis who have experienced trauma and torture, and social problems including prostitution and trafficking are on the rise. Iraq’s crisis is heightened as its professional citizens and skilled workers are not returning home. Hosting states have demonstrated a change in their attitude towards the Iraqi refugees and are lowering their deportation and detention rates. However, European countries remain unfriendly towards the refugees. Mr. Gabaudan stated the UNHCR is capable of doubling its outreach if it receives adequate funding.
In the question and answer session Dr. Joost and Mr. Gabaudan commented on the obstacles facing municipal elections. They also addressed the issues of the Iraqi Christian refugees, possible educational problems facing Iraqi children, and the need for more involvement from the Gulf states. They conclude that prospects for return of a substantial number of refugees seem very unlikely.