More Iraqi refugees returned to their homeland in 2011 than any year since 2004, UN figures showed on Tuesday, with the largest number coming from Syria, which has been rocked by months of protests.
According to data published by the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, 62,340 people returned to Iraq between December 2010 and November 2011. That compared to a total of 460,106 who came back from 2003 — when a US-led coalition ousted dictator Saddam Hussein — to 2010.
The figure of annual returns in 2011 was the highest for a single year since 2004’s 193,997.
The largest number of returnees in 2011 came back to Iraq from Syria, with 25,730 arriving from the neighbouring country that has been rocked by months of protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The next biggest group — 17,750 — returned from Iran, while 4,130 came from Jordan.
The number of returnees from Libya, where strongman Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown and killed, increased around tenfold to 1,010, UN figures showed.
UNHCR principally attributed the increase to a government decision to increase the amount of funds allocated to returnees, to four million Iraqi dinars, ($3,390), from one million previously.
It also noted “the increase in the level of security and services and the end of sectarian violence” as factors motivating refugees to come back to Iraq.
Iraq was wracked by a brutal confessional war from 2006 to 2008 in which tens of thousands were killed. While attacks still occur, levels of violence are markedly lower than during those years.
Estimates for the number of Iraqi refugees vary from 400,000 to two million.
In addition to refugees returning to the country, 175,090 people who were internally displaced returned to their homes, the vast majority in Baghdad and central Diyala province.
The number of internally displaced persons who went back home was the highest figure since 2008.