Cablegate: National Conference On Displacement

Published: Thu 17 Jul 2008 02:44 PM
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E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: On July 8 and 9 the GoI Ministry of Displacement and
Migration (MoDM) held its first National Conference to Address
Displacement, at which the Minister unveiled the National Policy on
Displacement. This policy document has been in the works for four
years and the Ministry relied on drafting assistance from UNHCR and
the USAID funded International Medical Corps to produce a final
version over the past month. While the document was broadly
welcomed in Iraq by the humanitarian community, the conference
provided a forum for a frank discussion of Iraq's displacement
crisis and potential solutions to it. Representatives of
Parliament, governorates, local officials, community and religious
leaders and several IDPs made impassioned statements about the
impact of displacement on the country and some sharp criticism of
the government. End Summary.
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Introduction of National Policy on Displacement
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2. The Minister of Displacement and Migration, Dr. Abdul Samad
Sultan, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, KRG Foreign Minister
Zebari, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General David
Shearer and UNHCR Representative Daniel Endres all made speeches
lauding the process of developing the National Policy, applauding
the product itself and hoping this would guide the GOI to find
"durable solutions" to the problems of internal and external
displacement of some 4 to 5 million Iraqis. Mr. Abdul Khaliq
Zangana, the Chairman of the Council of Representatives (CoR)
Displacement Committee applauded the Policy itself, but placed
greater emphasis on the difficulties of the tasks ahead, that is,
actually tackling the very specific, wide ranging and, to date,
insurmountable, problems of displacement in Iraq and the inadequacy
of MoDM to so far manage these problems. He noted that the mandate
to handle this problem is clear, that monies are available to
implement solutions and that the MoDM must hire adequate staff and
begin their task in coordination with other relevant government
ministries. Zangana noted his approaches to the Minister of Finance
to obtain $208m in supplemental funding for the Ministry. But he
said that the needs of IDPs and refugees were much greater and
called on the GOI to appropriate $2 billion to assist the displaced.
The National Policy
3. Iraq's National Policy on Displacement accepted by the Council of
Ministers (CoM) in mid-May, is a general framework. An
implementation plan is the next step as a follow-on to this
document. The stated policy aim is "to find durable solutions and
develop an effective, realistic and comprehensive framework to
respond to the needs of displaced persons from emergency to
protracted/prolonged displacement." The policy establishes a
definition of an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), the various
categories of IDPs and the background of how the problem started in
Iraq, and international guiding principles on treatment and rights
of IDPs
4. The Policy explicitly states that it was developed to be
consistent with the United Nations' (UN) Guiding Principles on
Internal Displacement and the UN Principles on Housing and Property
Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons. Further, it states
that the GoI's treatment of IDPs will be consistent with
International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law and the related
Guidelines. The Policy includes key elements such as: the
responsibility for IDPs, adherence to international obligations,
non-discrimination, participation in government, freedom of
movement, property rights and human rights. The Policy is aimed
specifically at reconciling the sectarian divide that has arisen
since 2003. The last two sentences of the Policy addresses this
reconciliation, to quote the Policy: "The National Policy on
Displacement indicates the major themes, pillars and rights that
have to be approved and supported by all stakeholders in order to
ensure the development of an Iraqi society that is capable of
equally protecting and serving all of its members. Imam Ali once
said, 'People are either one of two types: they are either your
brethren in faith or your fellow human counterparts.'"
5. Although the Policy does not specifically address Iraqi refugees,
UNHCR has told us that the Government has committed to meet the
needs of returning refugees in the same manner as it assists
returning IDPs.
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Reactions and Questions Concerning the National Policy
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6. The speeches were followed by testimonies from IDPs noting the
personal difficulties they faced as displaced persons and the
difficulties of finding adequate solutions to their overwhelming
situation. An Iraqi NGO, AMAL, presented a video showing the
difficulties faced by several IDP families.
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7. The first day of the Conference concluded with a question and
answer session; this provided an opportunity for representatives of
the governorates, local communities, religious and community leaders
to express their spontaneous and considered opinions on the problems
the country faces with one-sixth of its population displaced.
Present at the Conference were the governors of Najaf and Diyala
provinces, several mayors, a variety of tribal and community leaders
and several Shia and Sunni religious leaders. Although most of
those asking a question or making a statement offered an endorsement
of the MoDM's effort to date they were also very quick to point out
shortfalls, inadequacies, overwhelming problems and the difficulties
their communities and the country faced in attempting to solve this
8. There were several noteworthy statements during this question and
answer session, among them:
- Both Sunni and Shia religious leaders acknowledged that the
sectarian divide must be faced and reconciled before an overall
solution to the problem of displacement will be found.
- Both Governors and some regional council representative rejected
out of hand the idea that local integration would offer any solution
to the IDP problem; the OI should focus on return of IDPs to their
original place of residence. Some participants went further, saying
that IDPs should be forced to return to their original place of
- The Governors, one politely and one bluntly, stated that the
policy document was late and was not a plan to help them address
pressing displacement issues they face.
- Tribal and religious leaders would have to be engaged and
continuously involved in the IDP and refugee problem for it to be
- There was some sharp criticism of the GoI response to the problem
to date and the apparent inability of the MoDM to manage the
- It was noted that IDPs are treated differently from one
governorate to another and that MoDM should have a stronger
leadership role in offering a common country-wide approach to the
National Policy Working Groups
9. The second day of the Conference was devoted primarily to four
working groups with the following topics to discuss:
- Emergency services and emergency responses to the IDP and refugee
- Property restitution - what is the problem faced and how is this
to be resolved?
- Returns - what will allow and facilitate people to return from
abroad and from internal displacement?
- Refugees - what is the situation with refugees, what should the
role of the GoI be in this regard and how will they be
10. The four hour working group sessions defined the problems and
put forward recommendations for solutions. Each group had a
designated leader from MoDM who made an introductory statement, laid
out the topic from MoDM's perspective and then moderated the
discussion. At the end of the working group sessions these same
group leaders summarized their discussion and recommendations. With
the exception of the property working groups, these statements were
generally long on delineating the nature of the problems and
difficulties in each area and rather vague and not particularly
implementation oriented in the recommended solutions offered.
The Property Restitution Working Group
11. This began with a discussion about post 2003 IDP properties
occupied by squatters. According to a representative from a real
estate and property disputes committee, this is a law enforcement
issue, not a legal issue that will require MoDM-MoI-MoD coordination
(ultimately using force to resolve squatter situation). He proposed
a rather straight forward plan:
- Take names from the MoDM registry and survey the displaced
persons' properties;
- Share information regarding illegally occupied properties with
MoI/MoD in order to evict squatters.
- Use the property survey to account for damaged/destroyed homes
belonging to IDPs to give MoDM-backed compensation payments to IDPs
in order to help them return and rehabilitate their properties.
12. Discussion continued in this area with a member from a "Baghdad
Municipal IDP Committee" voicing his plan:
- Assist IDPs seeking to return work through local IDP committees;
- Mandate that IDP committees, working through "Municipal" Council,
checks up on the IDPs' homes to ensure they are acceptable for
return and advise families if it's safe or not to return.
13. The issue of media involvement was discussed at length. Major
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General Abdul Ameer of the 6th Iraqi Army Division, whose unit
provides security in the Hurriyah area of Baghdad where there are
significant returns, stated that he felt media involvement would be
necessary to encourage IDPs to return to safe neighborhoods. The
Municipal IDP Committee member reiterated his position to keep the
media out. General Ameer supported a plan to establish an inventory
of homes belonging to displaced families. According to him, an
inventory of homes within the Baghdad security districts exists, and
he supports sharing them with Property "Emergency Rooms" throughout
Baghdad. The General went on to say that his forces would be ready
to carry out evictions but would require the legal authorization to
do so. A religious leader from Kirkuk also added that the military
should be used to handle evictions. The MoDM representative stated
that it's not just about using force, and he went on to share that
force alone only creates more displacement.
14. The issue was also raised that perhaps compensation payments
should be considered for both parties involved, the returning family
and the IDP or squatter occupants of the home. That way, returnees
would have a monetary incentive to return and squatters would have
an incentive to leave without being forced to do so.
15. Positive Trends Noted by the Working Group:
- Municipal IDP committees working with returnee families to ensure
safe returns;
- Vetting of properties prior to returns;
- Compensation payments for damaged homes;
- Incentive payments to returnees and perhaps to squatters;
- An MoDM representative was on hand to hear and share
ideas/concerns with fellow Iraqis and concern against the use of
forced evictions.
16. Negative Trends Noted by the Working Group:
- The evictions issue still lingers.
- Other than the idea proposed about incentive payments to
squatters, there is still no constructive debate about what to do
with squatters once they are evicted. It appeared that the push
among many contributors is to simply get the squatters out.
- IOM raised the issue of some IDPs not wanting to return from their
areas of displacement. Several WG members voiced the idea of
"persuading" IDPs to return. When asked what if IDPs still don't
want to return after persuasion or incentives, one gentleman
proposed that they be persuaded again.
The Refugee Working Group
17. The refugee working group discussion focused on:
- Need for GoI communication with and support for refugees
- Need for MoDM to have offices within the countries that have large
groups of Iraqi refugees so that communication and assistance can be
direct and efficient.
- Refugees will need assistance to transition back to life in Iraq.
- There are groups of refugees that left out of fear of violence but
other groups who left because of their connections with the former
regime, how will this latter group be handled?
The Returnees Durable Solutions Working Group
18. In this working group, the following items were identified as
key elements in finding a durable solution for internal and refugee
- Return of property to rightful owner;
- Political participation of returnees;
- Protection of minorities;
- Improving environmental factors (i.e. marshlands, flooding,
pollution, etc.);
- Issuing of certificates to IDPs to verify their identity and
- Employment for those returning identified;
- Justice and fairness in the treatment of returnees;
- Education and health care provided;
- Water and sanitation issues managed in areas of return;
- Electricity, communication, infrastructure issues anticipated and
managed in areas of return.
19. Additional issues that were discussed during this working
- The media does not provide sufficient coverage and/or information
regarding the situation of IDP's.
- Financial incentives such as zero per cent interest loans should
be available to establish businesses.
- IDP's should be classified based on their intentions (i.e. won't
return regardless of condition, will return when allowed, etc.) and
procedures to handle these groups delineated.
- The psychological impact of displacement must be considered.
- Districts of Iraq should be classified based on level of security
for returnees so resources can be allocated correctly.
20. Summary. Overall the Conference offered MoDM an opportunity to
unveil the National Policy and to explain its workings and goals to
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leaders throughout the country and to the media. UNHCR and IMC
worked hand in hand with the MoDM on developing the National Policy.
UNOPS organized the Conference. While this National Policy
carefully documents the rights and needs of the displaced, the GOI's
challenge will be to implement and fund the commitments it makes.
UNHCR will provide a summarized report of the conference with a
transcript of the key speeches and the outcomes from the working
groups in about two weeks. End Summary.
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