Iraq’s Troubles Drive Out Refugees Who Came Back
By JOHN LELAND
Since the American invasion in 2003, refugees have been a measure of the country’s precarious condition, flooding outward during periods of violence and trickling back as Iraq seemed to stabilize. This new migration shows how far the nation remains from being stable and secure.
Abu Maream left
All three joined the flow of refugees who returned as violence here ebbed. But now they want to leave again.
“The only thing that’s stopping me is I don’t have the money,” said Mr. Maream, who gave only a partial name — literally, father of Maream — because he feared reprisal from extremists in his neighborhood. “We are Iraqis in name only.”
Nearly 100,000 refugees have returned since 2008, out of more than two million who left since the invasion, according to the Iraqi government and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
But as they return, pulled by improved security in
In a recent survey by the United Nations refugee office, 61 percent of those who returned to
Mr. Obeidi, who used his tribe’s name instead of his father’s name as a surname, left for Syria in 2006 after an improvised bomb exploded near his nephew, terrifying the boy, and insurgents threatened to kill Mr. Obeidi. On a recent evening in
“There’s no security here,” he said, ticking off his close encounters with guns and bombs. “I was near a female suicide bomber a couple months ago. Then I was in my brother’s truck when insurgents opened fire on a bridge. My friend was killed in front of me with a knife. I’ve been destroyed. My mother needs an operation for her eyes, and I don’t have money. We need someone to help us.”
“Feel my stomach,” he said. “It’s like a rock. It’s going to blow out.”
Before insurgents robbed his tool shops in 2006, he said, he earned about $1,000 a month and was planning to marry. But during several trips abroad he was unable to find work. Since returning to
He has twice paid smugglers, to take him to
“Life was better in
The United Nations provides some transportation costs and a small stipend for families that come back, but fewer than 4 percent of returnees take advantage of the program. Most either do not know about it or think they may still want to return to their asylum country and will want the agency to help them as refugees, not as returnees.
For Abu Maream and his family, who left for
On a recent afternoon he sat in a two-room apartment with only a mattress on the floor and a few possessions in boxes. He had no refrigerator and received only a few hours of electricity a day.
“Before, we had Shiite neighbors, and there were no problems at all,” said Mr. Maream, who is Sunni. “The government created the sectarian thing,” he said, meaning that the political parties formed along ethnic or religious lines, formalizing the division. Now his neighborhood has become a stronghold for Sunni extremists.
He sat on the edge of the mattress, his mother sitting behind him. In the coming months, he said, he will send his sisters and mother back to
“It’s over; that’s it,” he said. “I’m not coming back. How can I come back? I don’t believe
Mr. Tameemi, who fought in the bloody eight-year war with
Now, after two months back in
His next plan is to apply for asylum in the
“I regret coming back, but financial problems pushed me to do it,” he said. “The Iraqis don’t help the Iraqis.”
Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs