For thousands of displaced Iraqis living in refugee settlements throughout neighboring countries in the Middle East, the ability to return to their home country is not an end to the obstacles they face. Their original homes may have been damaged or destroyed in the war, career opportunities are scarce, and the Iraqi government struggles to provide basic resources and social services with a broken health infrastructure. Given all of this, returnee populations face dire circumstances under which to rebuild their lives. To assess local conditions and accessible returnee resources, a delegation of International Medical Corps representatives from Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan traveled to Iraq during the first week of August.
International Medical Corps has been working with Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) since 2003 and began addressing the needs of Iraqi refugees in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria in the ensuing years. The most recent Regional Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, featured a returns component focused on providing refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria with information on the returns process, resettlement and available services and benefits. As such, the delegation – Colin Lee and Chris Skopec, Lebanon and Jordan Country Directors respectively, Zeinab Hijazi, Regional Psychosocial Coordinator, and Dr. Mohammad Waleed Ikram, Syria Medical Director – visited a Returnee Assistance Center and Branch Office, met with the Iraqi Minister of Displacement of Migration (MoDM) and worked to build regional ties among the four countries to better provide comprehensive support to Iraqi IDPs, refugees, and returnees.
“If addressing voluntary return is not made a priority, and measures aimed at improving the well-being and reintegration of Iraq’s returnee population are neglected, there is little hope for a lasting peace in Iraq or the region,” said Colin Lee, International Medical Corps Lebanon Country Director.
International Medical Corps currently operates and staffs Returnee Assistance Centers (RACs) in Anbar, Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, and Salaheddine which provide registration, legal, administrative, and property restitution services and dispatch Mobile Assistance Teams to reach out to Iraqis who may not be aware of the benefits available to them. The International Medical Corps delegation visited the Khark RAC and Branch Office in Baghdad to improve the quality and level of legal and protection services offered to refugee returnees. The establishment of the RACs and support provided to Branch Offices has been a strong step toward providing Iraqi returnees and IDPs with comprehensive and sustainable multi-sectoral assistance.
Currently, all returnees receive official letters of reinstatement for education and employment status, telephone lines and electricity, and ration cards; free legal aid; and property restitution. Depending on the year they fled, Iraqi returnees also receive a combination of cash benefits and land. Iraqi refugees deciding to return can also access information on services in Iraq and cash benefits from UNHCR and the Iraqi embassies in their respective host countries. Since it is critical that the returns process is improved through the provision of better resources, effective communication of benefits, and efficient cross-border program collaboration and information sharing, the International Medical Corps delegation also met with MoDM’s Minister Abdul Rahman Sultan and his team for a collaborative discussion on how returnees and IDPs can be provided with better resources. International Medical Corps’ efforts to establish regional ties will help give Iraqi refugees, returnees, and IDPs streamlined and comprehensive services related to returns and resettlement in Iraq – and the hope of rebuilding healthy futures for their families.