Surge in the Number of Iraqi Refugees

July 3, 2008

A new United Nations report finds that in the past year the number of refugees worldwide has increased from 9 to 11 million. Khalid Koser, deputy director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, discusses the causes behind this increase as well as possible implications if the number of refugees continues to climb. Koser says the primary reasons for the increase are the continued presence of Afghan refugees plus new Iraqi refugees who have fled to Jordan and Syria. Without durable solutions, these refugee situations can become protracted, which has significant security implications for the host countries and their regions.


DHALIWAL: The number of refugees worldwide has gone up for the second year in a row to more than 11 million, according to a new United Nations report. And that doesn’t even include the 26 million people who are displaced within their own borders. The increase is attributed to a complex mix of global challenges. And here to give us his insights is Khalid Koser, Deputy Director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement. Khalid welcome to Foreign Exchange.

KOSER: Thank you.

DHALIWAL: What has caused this dramatic jump in the number of refugees?

KOSER: As you indicate there are complex reasons behind the rise. But I think it’s fairly straight forward to me to say that Iraq is the main factor at the moment. We have at least 2.5 million Iraqis displaced outside their country as refugees, and that number alone has accounted for most of the increase that we’ve seen. It combines with, I think, disappointing returns to Afghanistan. We have about 3 million Afghans still displaced as refugees. Around three-quarters of a million have gone back over the past year but that’s far fewer than what was expected. So it seems to me that the combination of Iraq, increasing numbers in Afghanistan, not decreasing numbers accounts almost solidly for the increase overall. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the rise in refugee numbers around the world have become an unintended consequence of the War on Terror. Iraq and Afghanistan alone comprise more than half of the world’s refugees.

DHALIWAL: And how many Iraqis have fled since the invasion overall? Since 2003?

KOSER: At least 2.5 million outside their country and at least 2.5 million inside their country. I think the only reason there aren’t more refugees in Jordan and Syria is because Jordan and Syria have now closed their borders to refugees. So you have a situation where increasing numbers of Iraqis are leaving their homes but can’t escape the country.