Iraqi Refugee Assistance:

Improvements Needed in Measuring Progress, Assessing Needs, Tracking Funds, and Developing an International Strategic Plan

GAO-09-120: Published: Apr 21, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 2009.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Joseph A. Christoff
(202) 512-8979
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Iraqi refugees are one of the largest urban populations the UN has been called on to assist. The UN reports government estimates of up to 4.8 million Iraqis displaced within the last 5 years, with 2 million fleeing, primarily to Syria and Jordan. GAO examined challenges in (1) measuring and monitoring progress in achieving U.S. goals for assisting Iraqi refugees, (2) providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees, (3) offering solutions for Iraqi refugees, and (4) developing an international strategic plan to address the Iraqi refugee situation. GAO analyzed reports and data; met with officials from the U.S. government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), international organizations, and NGOs; and did fieldwork in Jordan and Syria.

To implement its 2008 goal and objectives for Iraqi refugees, State primarily funded and monitored the efforts of its implementing partners, which include international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGO). These activities provided Iraqi refugees and host country populations with education, vocational training, health care, food, and financial support. However, State did not clearly link program achievements to its stated goal and objectives for Iraqi refugees. As a result, State has limited information to assess and report its progress in reaching its goal and objectives and improve program effectiveness. Insufficient numbers of staff to monitor projects, difficulties gaining access to projects and refugees, and the lack of reliable data have challenged State's efforts to ensure that projects help the intended beneficiaries. U.S. and international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries are impeded by the lack of reliable estimates on the needs of Iraqi refugees and data on the funding targeted at Iraqi refugee programs. Iraqi refugees live interspersed among the local urban populations and are not easily identified. Official government estimates on the number of Iraqi refugees in each country may be overstated. It is also difficult to determine the amount of funding provided for Iraqi refugee programs because the U.S. government and UNHCR, the largest bilateral and multilateral funding sources, do not report funding for Iraqi refugee programs separately from that provided for all Iraq-related humanitarian assistance. The U.S. government and UNHCR face challenges in offering solutions for Iraqi refugees. According to UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution, but conditions in Iraq are not yet suitable for Iraqis to return. According to the International Organization for Migration, the Iraqi government has cited improvements in security and offered financial incentives to returning refugee families. Although another solution is integration and settlement in host countries, Syria and Jordan consider Iraqi refugees "guests" who should return to Iraq once the security situation improves. The U.S. government has made progress in resettling Iraqi refugees under its U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, with 15,431 refugees resettled in the United States in fiscal years 2007 and 2008. According to U.S., UN, foreign government, and NGO officials, the international community lacks a comprehensive international strategy to address the Iraqi refugee situation. Although the 2009 UN Consolidated Appeal showed progress in strategic planning, the UN and international community continue to lack a longer-term approach. First, the international community lacks a comprehensive independent assessment of the needs of vulnerable Iraqi refugees and the populations that host them. Second, State, UNHCR, and NGOs do not have a strategy that addresses factors that may affect assistance efforts. Third, the international community has lacked a coordination mechanism that involves all stakeholders.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the U.S. government and the international community to plan their assistance programs based on need and provide longer term solutions for Iraqi refugees, the Secretary of State should work with UNHCR and the governments of Jordan, Syria, and other relevant host governments to expedite efforts to conduct independent comprehensive assessments of the number and needs of Iraqi refugees and the related needs of the countries hosting them.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Despite the continued efforts of the Department of State and its international humanitarian organization partners to work with relevant host governments to implement this recommendation, recent events in the region due to the crisis in Syria have overtaken these efforts and made this recommendation invalid. Specific information on Department of State efforts and recent events are considered sensitive but unclassified by the department and thus may not be made public.

    Recommendation: To provide more transparency in funding provided for Iraqi refugee programs and help Congress and the Administration consider funding requests for neighboring countries, the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator should develop systems to separately track and report funding apportioned, obligated, and expended for Iraqi refugee programs in each host country, to the extent practicable.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although the Department of State agreed with this recommendation, as of August 2013, the Department of State has not provided evidence showing action taken on this recommendation. According to the Department of State, its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is in the process of developing a new "database system" that will help to better track funding by population and country. PRM expects the use of this database to be implemented over the course of fiscal year 2014. PRM has not yet provided us with documentation regarding this planned system and its capabilities. Also, according to the Department of State, since 2010, PRM's framework agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has required it to improve its end of year financial reporting to detail how U.S. government regional or sub-regional funds were expended by country. However, PRM has not provided us with documentation demonstrating steps taken by UNHCR to meet this requirement or whether the requirement has been met. We look forward to receiving further evidence of action taken on this recommendation from the Department of State.

    Recommendation: To provide more transparency in funding provided for Iraqi refugee programs and help Congress and the Administration consider funding requests for neighboring countries, the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator should develop systems to separately track and report funding apportioned, obligated, and expended for Iraqi refugee programs in each host country, to the extent practicable.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Circumstances have changed and this recommendation is no longer valid as it pertains to USAID. In the past, USAID allocated funds to assist Iraqi refugees in the region from Food for Peace and Economic Support Funds. USAID was unable to track and report the amount of funding provided to each recipient country in the region from these funds. According to USAID, funding for the agency to assist Iraqi refugees ended subsequent to our review and Congress has not appropriated any additional funding to USAID designated for assistance to Iraqi refugees. According to USAID, given that Congress is unlikely to designate funds to the agency for this purpose in the future, USAID concluded that it would not be practical to create a system to track such funds. Refugee programs in Iraq are now overseen by the Department of State?s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the Department of State to evaluate and report progress toward its stated goals and objectives to assist Iraqi refugees, the Secretary of State should develop performance measures to fully assess and report progress in achieving U.S. goals and objectives for Iraqi refugees. Performance measures and indicators should be clearly linked to progress in achieving stated goals and objectives. Performance goals, objectives, and measures should clearly and transparently address the extent to which programs should target refugees and host government populations, respectively, to the extent practicable.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO?s recommendation, in 2009 the Department of State?s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) established new goals and performance measures and created a spreadsheet that lists, links, and tracks annual goals, objectives, and progress made in assisting Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and other conflict victims. PRM updates the spreadsheet throughout the year and includes it with the bureau's annual policy paper as part of the PRM's overall policy and program review process. The bureau's policy and program review process establishes PRM policies that link broader strategic objectives with resource allocation and performance management. Also, according to PRM, whenever possible, the bureau requires partners to disaggregate reporting on beneficiaries by gender, nationality, and internally displaced person/returnee status.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the U.S. government and the international community to plan their assistance programs based on need and provide longer term solutions for Iraqi refugees, the Secretary of State should, in conjunction with relevant U. S. agencies and in coordination with the donor community, work with UNHCR and the governments of Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and other relevant host governments to build on the efforts in the 2009 UN Consolidated Appeal for Iraq and the Region and develop a comprehensive international strategy for providing assistance and solutions for Iraqi refugees.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Syrian crisis and resulting displacement in the region have overtaken the Iraqi refugee crisis and made this recommendation invalid as it specifically pertains to Iraqi refugees. In lieu of an international strategy, the Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development developed a U.S. government strategy regarding Iraqi refugees, made an unclassified version public, and updated it in September 2011 to address the changing context. Specific information on additional recent Department of State efforts with the international community and governments hosting refugees are considered sensitive but unclassified by State and thus may not be made public.

    Jul 24, 2014

    Jul 21, 2014

    Jul 9, 2014

    Jul 8, 2014

    Jun 26, 2014

    Jun 25, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here