Displaced Iraqis:

Integrated International Strategy Needed to Reintegrate Iraq's Internally Displaced and Returning Refugees

GAO-11-124: Published: Dec 2, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 2010.

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The estimated number of Iraqis who have been internally displaced since February 2006 is about 1.6 million, and numerous Iraqis are in neighboring countries. Tens of thousands of Iraqi families have returned home and the number is slowly increasing. GAO examined (1) conditions in Iraq that pose a challenge to the reintegration of displaced Iraqis, (2) actions the international community is taking to address these conditions and reintegration, and (3) the extent to which the international community has an effective reintegration strategy. GAO analyzed reports and data, met with officials from the U.S. and Iraqi governments and international and nongovernmental organizations, and did fieldwork in Geneva and Baghdad.

Several issues impede the return and reintegration of displaced Iraqis. Although the overall security situation in Iraq has improved since 2006, the actual and perceived threat across governorates and neighborhoods continues to impede Iraqi returns and reintegration. Problems in securing property restitution or compensation and shelter have made it difficult to return and reintegrate. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 43 percent of the internally displaced that it surveyed did not have access to their homes, primarily because their property was occupied or destroyed. IOM also reported that one-third of the heads of returnee families it assessed were unemployed. Iraq continues to lack adequate access to essential services--that is, food, water, sanitation, electricity, health services, and education. Moreover, insufficient government capacity and commitment cross over each of the problem areas and serve as a deterrent to returns and reintegration. The international community has taken action to address the impediments that displaced Iraqis face, but the extent to which these efforts will result in reintegration of displaced Iraqis is uncertain. International and nongovernmental organizations, supported by U.S. and other donor funding, have initiated projects. However, the extent to which these projects specifically target and affect reintegration is not consistently measured. The Iraqi government has initiated efforts to encourage returns and reintegration. However, progress in this area has been limited due to insufficient commitment and capacity, according to international and U.S. officials. Iraq, the United States, and other members of the international community do not have an integrated international strategy for the reintegration of displaced Iraqis. The international community lacks integrated plans because Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration planning efforts stalled due to limitations of authority, capacity, and broader Iraqi government support, according to U.S. and international officials; the United Nation's (UN) strategy and plans have not specifically focused on reintegration; and an unclassified version of the current U.S. government strategy has not been made publicly available. This situation has hindered efforts to efficiently assess the needs of internally displaced Iraqis and returnees. Moreover, the international community has not yet reached an agreement on goals and expected outcomes for reintegration. Also, the UN has not integrated data on returnee needs from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) into its new Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU), which was established to provide a central point for collecting and assessing data, and UNHCR is not taking advantage of IAU resources and coordination efforts. Furthermore, it is difficult for stakeholders to effectively delineate roles and responsibilities and establish coordination and oversight mechanisms. One area with significant potential for inefficiencies is in the establishment and operation of numerous assistance centers and mobile units across Iraq by various entities to assist returnees, the internally displaced, and other vulnerable Iraqis. GAO recommends that (1) the Secretary of State (State) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator assist Iraq in developing an effective integrated international strategy for reintegrating displaced Iraqis; (2) State and USAID make publicly available an unclassified version of the current U.S. strategy; (3) State encourage UNHCR to share primary data collected and take advantage of the IAU efforts; and (4) State and USAID work with UNHCR and others to inventory and assess the operations of the various assistance centers to determine and achieve an optimal framework. The Department of State and USAID concurred with our recommendations.

Status Legend:

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  • 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 Iraqi and U.S. governments, international organizations, and NGOs to effectively plan and integrate their efforts to assist and reintegrate displaced Iraqis, the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator should work with the appropriate international organizations to assist the Iraqi government in developing an international strategy that addresses impediments to return and prepares for and facilitates the return and reintegration of displaced Iraqis.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Open

    Comments: USAID concurred with this recommendation. In 2013 USAID informed GAO that, with U.S. government encouragement, the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement presented a "2011 Comprehensive Plan on Durable Solutions for IDPs" during a meeting of Iraqi authorities, NGOs, and UN agencies in February 2012. The plan includes support for both returns and local integration. According to USAID, it continues to provide related technical assistance. GAO has requested further evidence from USAID and continues to monitor actions taken by USAID to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the Iraqi and U.S. governments, international organizations, and NGOs to effectively plan and integrate their efforts to assist and reintegrate displaced Iraqis, the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator should work with the appropriate international organizations to assist the Iraqi government in developing an international strategy that addresses impediments to return and prepares for and facilitates the return and reintegration of displaced Iraqis.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of State concurred with this recommendation. State also noted that it is the Iraqi government that must lead the implementation of such a strategy; the U.S. government role will continue to be one of advocacy and support. In 2013 USAID informed GAO that, with U.S. government encouragement, the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement presented a "2011 Comprehensive Plan on Durable Solutions for IDPs" during a meeting of Iraqi authorities, NGOs, and UN agencies in February 2012. The plan includes support for both returns and local integration. According to USAID, State continues to advocate for Iraqi implementation and ownership of elements of the plan. GAO has requested further information and evidence from State and continues to monitor actions taken by State to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the U.S. goals and plans are fully integrated with those of Iraq and other international community stakeholders and that progress toward meeting those goals is transparent, the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator should make public an unclassified version of the current U.S. strategy and their implementing plans for assisting and reintegrating displaced Iraqis, including their goals, performance measures, and progress assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State and USAID concurred with GAO's finding and in response to GAO's recommendation prepared and subsequently released the unclassified U.S. government strategy for assistance to displaced Iraqis on September 30, 2011. The unclassified version of the strategy entitled "United States Government Support for Iraqi Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Returns and Local Integration Strategy Document" is available on the Department of State's website at: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/releases//2011/181070.htm. The strategy includes plans and funding for assisting and reintegrating displaced Iraqis and includes goals, performance measures, and progress reporting.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the U.S. and Iraqi governments, other donors, international organizations, and implementing partners have the best data available regarding the numbers and needs of internally displaced persons (IDP), returnees, and other vulnerable Iraqis, in the most efficient manner, the Secretary of State should encourage UNHCR to share its raw data and methodology with the IAU and take advantage of IAU expertise and coordinated efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation and has continued to state that it will encourage UNHCR to work with the UN's Inter-Agency Information and analysis Unit (IAU)to coordinate information and data in a manner that maximizes efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and support for returns and reintegration. GAO continues to monitor any further efforts State may take to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective and efficient use of resources by its implementing partners, the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator should work with UNHCR and its other implementing partners to take inventory of and assess the purposes, organization, operations, and results of the various assistance, return, and registration centers and mobile units in Iraq to determine and achieve an optimal framework for assisting IDPs, returnees, and other vulnerable Iraqis.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the report, the Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) agreed with our findings and this recommendation, and State noted that it had already begun to work toward implementation of the recommendation. State described the progress already made by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to consolidate, in certain locations, the services provided by its Protection Assistance Centers (PACs) and Return, Integration, and Community Centers (RICCs) and UNHCR's plans for further consolidation. At the time of our report, UNHCR had 15 PACs and 12 RICCs, 6 in Baghdad and 6 elsewhere in Iraq, and was planning on opening at least 4 more RICCs. In May 2011, UNHCR announced publically that to improve service delivery and to ensure that persons of concern receive the right support, the PACs and RICCs had been or were in the process of being merged and would subsequently be renamed Protection Assistance and Reintegration Centers (PARCs). As of July 2011, UNHCR reported that in Iraq it had 14 PARCs, 5 PACs, an unidentified number of RICCs only in Baghdad, and 40 mobile outreach teams. Also, UNHCR noted during the audit that the Iraqi government had established three Return and Assistance Centers, two supported by the International Medical Corps funded by USAID and one supported by UNCHR funded by State. In January 2011, to further consolidate U.S. government programming in Iraq, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance handed over their program supporting two Iraqi government Returnee Assistance Centers (RACs) to UNCHR. This action put all three of the RACs under one management umbrella which could result in efficiencies.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the U.S. goals and plans are fully integrated with those of Iraq and other international community stakeholders and that progress toward meeting those goals is transparent, the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator should make public an unclassified version of the current U.S. strategy and their implementing plans for assisting and reintegrating displaced Iraqis, including their goals, performance measures, and progress assessments.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State and USAID concurred with GAO's finding and in response to GAO's recommendation prepared and subsequently released the unclassified U.S. government strategy for assistance to displaced Iraqis on September 30, 2011. The unclassified version of the strategy entitled "United States Government Support for Iraqi Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Returns and Local Integration Strategy Document" is available on the Department of State's website at: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/releases//2011/181070.htm. The strategy includes plans and funding for assisting and reintegrating displaced Iraqis and includes goals, performance measures, and progress reporting.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective and efficient use of resources by its implementing partners, the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator should work with UNHCR and its other implementing partners to take inventory of and assess the purposes, organization, operations, and results of the various assistance, return, and registration centers and mobile units in Iraq to determine and achieve an optimal framework for assisting IDPs, returnees, and other vulnerable Iraqis.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the report, the Department of State (State) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) agreed with our findings and this recommendation, and State noted that it had already begun to work toward implementation of the recommendation. State described the progress already made by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to consolidate, in certain locations, the services provided by its Protection Assistance Centers (PACs) and Return, Integration, and Community Centers (RICCs) and UNHCR's plans for further consolidation. At the time of our report, UNHCR had 15 PACs and 12 RICCs, 6 in Baghdad and 6 elsewhere in Iraq, and was planning on opening at least 4 more RICCs. In May 2011, UNHCR announced publically that to improve service delivery and to ensure that persons of concern receive the right support, the PACs and RICCs had been or were in the process of being merged and would subsequently be renamed Protection Assistance and Reintegration Centers (PARCs). As of July 2011, UNHCR reported that in Iraq it had 14 PARCs, 5 PACs, an unidentified number of RICCs only in Baghdad, and 40 mobile outreach teams. Also, UNHCR noted during the audit that the Iraqi government had established three Return and Assistance Centers, two supported by the International Medical Corps funded by USAID and one supported by UNCHR funded by State. In January 2011, to further consolidate U.S. government programming in Iraq, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance handed over their program supporting two Iraqi government Returnee Assistance Centers (RACs) to UNCHR. This action put all three of the RACs under one management umbrella which could result in efficiencies.

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