“People are not convinced of the sustainability of return. The majority of Iraqi refugees are waiting and seeing,” said Imran Riza, UNHCR’s representative in Jordan.
“Thats why theyre not definitively returning. The numbers are relatively low compared to traffic back and forth. So the people going back must have heard from relatives or others that there must be a chance,” he said.
The United Nations said it has found that returnees most likely to remain in Iraq are those who have found employment.
According to U.N. statistics, more than 220,000 Iraqis who fled abroad or were displaced in the country after the 2003 invasion returned home in the last year. But the majority are from among the 1.6 million internally displaced inside Iraq, forced from their homes by sectarian and ethnic violence.
Mr. Riza said UNHCR and its partners provide some financial assistance to those Iraqis who are officially recognized as refugees. The coveted U.N. blue card is issued to family units, which receive the equivalent of $35 per month.
“What we try to ensure is that it is not push factors that are making them decide to go back. We have some safety net in terms of assistance for Iraqis in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt,” he said.
There are far more Iraqis being resettled in third countries than those who return home, according to UNHCR. These are Iraqis whom the U.N. considers vulnerable, especially those who cannot go back to Iraq because of personal trauma or violence against their religious communities. Many left neighborhoods that have been often divided into sectarian enclaves.
About 8,000 Iraqis are expected to be resettled this year in the United States from Jordan and will be joined by an even bigger number of Iraqis sheltering in Syria, according to Mr. Riza.
The Washington-based advocacy group Refugees International said it did not anticipate large-scale voluntary returns of Iraqi refugees taking place “anytime soon.”
“Many refugees will remain displaced for years. Therefore, relief activities will continue to be essential throughout 2010,” said the report, released in October.
The group urged the United States to provide more financial assistance to U.N. refugee-related activities and to countries burdened by hosting the refugees. Both Jordan and Syria each spend an estimated at $1.5 billion per year on Iraqi refugees.