BAQUBA - At least 5 million Iraqis have fled their homes due to the violence
under the U.S.-led occupation, but half of them are unable to leave the country,
according to well-informed estimates.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there
are more than 4.4 million displaced Iraqis, an estimate that many workers among
refugees find conservative.
The UNHCR announced last week that at present 2,000 Iraqis are fleeing their
homes every day. Most of them have received direct threats from death squads
The provinces that have suffered the greatest displacement are the largely
Sunni Baghdad, Diyala, al-Anbar, and Salahadeen in central Iraq.
Members of many families who have not fled told IPS they have stayed on because
they had no choice.
"We could not leave our city despite the security situation because we
don't have the money to travel and live outside Iraq," Ali Muhsin, an official
with the directorate general of education and a father of five told IPS in Baquba,
40 km northeast of Baghdad.
"For more than a year, we used to receive the salary only every 50 or
60 days because the militants had taken over the entire city. They even controlled
the banks, which prevented our offices from receiving the money."
Muhsin said most workers in the education system in Diyala province (north
of Baghdad where Baquba is located) are not fully employed and are therefore
not paid salaries. And the rampant violence has prevented people going to work.
"People can hardly afford to live in Iraq, so how could they afford the
expense of traveling and living abroad," Najmeldeen Alwan, a local grocer
near Baquba, told IPS. His wife Suhir, standing by his side, said, "We
just wait for our destiny."
Local Iraqis say most people who fled had the means or the ability to acquire
"Seventy percent of those who fled are rich, and the rest had various
resources," Abaid Nasir, an unemployed trader in Baquba, told IPS. "Some
sold their properties, others used up their savings to save the lives of their
But it is not money alone that decides whether a family stays or goes.
"My family live in a small village which has managed to defend itself
from criminals and gangs," Ta'ama Aed told IPS. "Our people protect
it against the militants. The only thing the militants can do is bomb it with
Aed lives in a small village on the outskirts of Baquba. But the need for safety
meant that "inhabitants do not leave the village," he said.
Other families have made deals with militias and resistance groups for their
"A large number of people have sided with the militants for their safety,"
local resident Mohammed Jabur told IPS. "In such cases, one of the militants
guarantees the family that nobody will hurt them, and they usually keep their
There are no formal, government-sponsored refugee camps in Iraq. Makeshift
camps are common throughout the country, but they are fluid, and security in
them is poor.
One reason keeping many Iraqis back now is the lack of security on highways.
Most people IPS interviewed said they avoided traveling more than two or three
kilometers from their villages, towns, or cities.
"I wanted to leave Iraq, but I could not because the militants control
the highways and all the roads from the city," Ahmed Salih from Baquba
city told IPS. "All the way to the borders, militias and fighters control
On Oct. 1 Syria decided to close its borders to Iraqis, except for traders
and academics. The move has left thousands of family members separated from
Roughly 10 percent of Syria's population is now Iraqis, and the government
has said it cannot absorb more refugees.
The U.S. itself is least affected by the refugee crisis. Since the invasion
of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. administration has issued less than 2,000 visas
"Since October 2006 the U.S. government has gone from denying that large
numbers of vulnerable Iraqi refugees even existed, to speaking openly of an
Iraqi refugee crisis," the group Refugees International said in a statement.
"But its actual financial commitments are commensurate neither with the
need nor with the U.S. role in creating the displacement crisis in the first
place. The president and his war cabinet have yet to recognize the human toll
the violence has been taking on Iraqi civilians and neighboring countries."