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Assessing IDPs in the south

[Iraq] Two Iranian children stand outside their makeshift "home" in Basra.
IDP numbers in the south and centre are still difficult to quantify (IRIN)

A clearer picture of the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern and central Iraq is emerging as initial data begins to come in. Chris Petch, the deputy programme manager for IDPs in Iraq for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IRIN that while there were still large areas of the country to be covered and assessed, it was clear there were many thousands of Iraqis who had shifted from their homes during the war and had not yet returned. IOM is the lead agency for IDPs in the south and centre of the country.

And while the numbers were not as great as had been predicted or feared before the war, those IDPs who had been identified were in real need of assistance. Initial reports from 12 of the 92 southern and central districts had identified 58,000 IDPs, but other unconfirmed reports could mean that this number was actually over 80,000, Petch said.

He said one of the big problems in trying to accurately assess the scale of the problem was that the situation was very complicated and constantly changing. For example, IOM had received a report of 50,000 IDPs camped near the Iranian border, but when they investigated, found only 2,000.

By contrast, in another case there was a report of up to 50,000 IDPs in one location during the war, but IOM now knows there were close to 100,000 people there at the time. Petch said it was a very fluid picture, and security concerns meant that NGOs had been unable to reach into many areas until now to check on the problem.

Numbers could fluctuate every day in an area, with displacement still going on in some places, but he hoped to obtain a clearer picture of the problem within a month. One of the current problems was that some areas were not deemed safe to travel to, such as the region around Tikrit, about 150 km northwest of Baghdad. However he was confident that IOM had access to enough resources to cope with the IDP situation whatever the final figures turned out to be.

It already had a stock non-food items sufficient for 250,000 people, and Petch believed that would be enough. Once IDPs were found, they would be helped to return to their places of origin, resettle, or integrate into the new community, and he believed that this process could occur quite quickly once started. From his experience in other countries, Petch said people generally wanted to return to their homes, and he suspected this would be the case in Iraq.

Peter Nuttall, a team leader for the Irish NGO, GOAL, which is helping with IDP assessments in the southern governorate of Dhi Qar, told IRIN it had only been in the last two weeks that they had begun locating IDPs. He said this was in part due to misunderstandings among Iraqis about what constituted an IDP, but better information was now coming in.

For example, GOAL staff had found four families living in the back of a building, and when locals were asked where they had come from, staff were told they were just poor people. It transpired, however, that the families had been renting houses which had been destroyed, thereby turning them into IDPs. Nuttall said GOAL was continuing its work and would have a clear picture of the overall situation in the area within a few weeks.

Another NGO involved in the IDP assessments, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said it had completed its assessment in the Al-Anbar Governorate west of Baghdad. Its programme coordinator, John Damerell, told IRIN the security situation, including an armed attack on two of its vehicles, meant it had been unable to visit all areas or complete its work. While unable to give definite figures, he said the number of IDPs remaining in Al-Anbar was not appreciable, although there would still be several thousand.

He added that the plight of those found was not deemed to be chronic, and they all intended to go home as soon as possible. Most IDPs had stayed with families or friends, or been put up by benevolent locals, including one hotel which had opened its doors to them and accommodated them gratis.

Damerell stressed that all the information LWF had received pointed to the number of IDPs having been much greater when the fighting was still in progress. However, when looting broke out, many people quickly returned to their homes in places such as Baghdad to try and protect their possessions, he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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