While newspapers and magazines have been reporting encouraging stories about Iraqis being able to return home as a result of reduced violence, and the Iraqi Red Crescent reporting that 25,000 refugees have returned since September 15, the Associated Press is reporting that the Iraqi government has admitted that it is unprepared for a large influx of returning refugees, and that the US military fears that returning refugees could spark renewed sectarian violence.
The return of refugees is a politically charged issue in this country, where the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki is eager to point to recent military gains against al–Qaida in Iraq and other militants as evidence that Iraq is now a relatively safe place.
But the U.S. military has warned that a massive return of refugees could rekindle sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites and that some returnees have found their Baghdad homes occupied by members of the other Muslim sect.
“In reality, the ministry cannot absorb a return on that (large) scale,” Iraqi Migration Minister Abdul-Samad Rahman told a news conference. “If the influx is huge, then neither the ministry nor the entire government can handle it.”
While the Iraqi government works to establish an effective method of resettlement for returning refugees, UNHCR has announced that it will provide over $11 million in aid for returning families
Announcing the $11.4 million relief package, Staffan De Mistura, the U.N. chief in Iraq, said the money would be spent on 5,000 vulnerable families, or about 30,000 people, returning to Iraq in response to declining violence.
The veteran Swedish diplomat said the program would include food baskets and other emergency kits. The money, he said, came from UNHCR and would supplement ongoing Iraqi government aid.
“It is not a massive return and the UNHCR is not encouraging a massive return due to the fragility of the (security) situation,” De Mistura said. “At the same time, a flow is taking place and we need to show together that there is a proper response,” he said.
Read the full story from the AP here.