Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Refugees? Problem.
Security? Problem, too.
Risk of spiral down.

Refugees International, based in Washington, DC, has issued a set of "Observations from Iraq," in which two recently returned researchers report on the humanitarian situation in post-Hussein, U.S.-occupied Iraq.

The report reads as follows:

07/10/2003 - Shannon Meehan and Ada Williams, Refugees International Field Advocates, recently returned from Iraq after spending more than 9 weeks (April 12 – June 18, 2003) in the region looking at the overall humanitarian situation and the status of displaced persons. Based upon their extensive travels, interviews with the Iraqi people, humanitarian organizations and the Coalition Provisional Authority, Refugees International has the following observations:

Security remains a serious problem.

Improved security remains the key to humanitarian and political progress. “Unless law and order can be re-established promptly, there is a risk of a rapid downward spiral in the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and civilian relief agencies will not be in no position to respond.” (CARE Testimony to Congress) While NGOs are not yet directly targeted, it still remains difficult to respond to humanitarian needs. Some NGO’s warehouses have been looted and the Christian Children’s Fund cannot access some of Baghdad’s neighborhoods in order to serve children’s dire needs. (“Although access to the country of Iraq has been possible, security is still a matter of ongoing concern, and access to some areas is still problematic.” CCF Weekly Report)

Lack of security is also preventing Iraqis from moving freely and resuming their daily activities. This is particularly true for women. There are reports that women are not leaving their houses anymore because they fear for their security. There have been numerous reports of rape and girls are not attending school - their parents do not allow them to go outside the house or attend school. A Back-to-School campaign (prepared by UNICEF, UNESCO and OCPA) will have no effect whatsoever if the security situation does not improve by the beginning of the school year. All actors involved need to recognize the importance of the six Core Principles of a Code of Conduct of the IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crisis.

Insecurity is an American problem as much as an Iraqi problem because it is slowing the pace of reconstruction. The U.S. must quickly mobilize an Iraqi force that can begin to take over some of the policing and security challenges.

Iraq continues to be plagued by a leadership vacuum, which is compounded by the lack of transparency and disorganization of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). As a result, humanitarian conditions are worsening.

The UN and international agencies are poised to work to resolve the problems facing Iraq, but there is currently no legal or structural framework to govern their response. If NGOs wish to help rebuild Iraq but do not know how to fit their work into an overall CPA plan for Iraq, they cannot respond effectively and they risk duplication of efforts. Particularly in the case of social services, NGO intervention should be part of a national plan. More importantly, the people of Iraq need to understand the Coalition’s objectives and participate in the rebuilding of their future.

It is important to emphasize that the participation of women is critical for Iraq. The CPA should not lose sight of the importance of women’s and children’s education and health issues. In addition, CPA must recognize that women’s former political status and participation in politics were quite high in Iraq since the 1950s. On this and other issues, the Coalition must do a better job of communicating its plans and of creating a sense of partnership with the Iraqi people.

The U.S.-led Coalition should rely more heavily on the United Nations.

The UN has vast experience in meeting humanitarian needs, rebuilding broken countries, establishing interim governments and building confidence in the future. What’s more, the UN operated in Baghdad prior to the last war and knows some of the players in Iraqi institutions. Greater participation by the UN and international agencies in reconstruction activities will add legitimacy to the post-war effort and increase effectiveness. Another advantage to increasing involvement of the UN and other international agencies is that they don’t face the same security challenges and constraints currently encountered by the U.S.

There is no humanitarian crisis, but the situation is so fragile that any of the chronic problems can easily become destabilizing and dangerous.

The sporadic electricity affects the cleanliness of the water supply, which in turn leads to increases in water-born diseases. Cholera and gastro-intestinal diseases are the major illnesses facing children in Iraq and are the direct causes of increased malnutrition. Fuel shortages also have an impact on the cleanliness of food. Without cooking fuel, families are not able to boil water or cook the food in the hygienic environment that existed before the war. An emergency system for the payment of essential government employees at hospitals, clinics, water treatment plans and other vital social services facilities is needed. The UN World Food Program is successfully meeting food needs. The Coalition must continue its efforts to restore electricity and water to the Iraqi people, as well as institute the systematic payment of Iraqi people until a more permanent system is constituted.

There is a growing trend toward economic displacement and human rights abuses in the urban centers, and increased ethnic displacements because local populations are taking solutions into their own hands.

For example, Arabs are being thrown out of homes in the North by the Kurds who wish to reclaim their former houses and lands. Palestinians continue to be evicted from their subsidized housing, many under the threat of severe violence. Lack of coherent policies, direction and leadership from the CPA to address these tensions are leaving the population without needed protections and without a sense that the CPA is dealing with crucial rule-of-law and property issues. It is important to act now to prevent ethnic rivalries from escalating by having the CPA support the deployment of UN Human Rights officers across the country.

There are approximately 130,000 refugees in Iraq comprising Palestinians, Iranians, Kurds, Turks, and Syrians.

In addition, there are a potential 1/2 million Iraqi refugees throughout the region and in Europe who would like to return or may be forced to return (Europe is pressuring Iraqis to return home). Returns to Iraq on this scale will require planning and dedicated support. RI concluded in the course of its mission that the CPA was simply overwhelmed by the complex issues surrounding refugees and displaced populations, and that it had already given up seeking solutions. This is a perfect example of where support from experts from the United Nations and the NGO community must be sought to devise effective solutions to enable Iraqi refugees to return in dignity.