The crisis began with the displacement of one million Iraqis fleeing war-related violence in the first three years following the 2003 invasion and escalated dramatically after the bombing of a mosque in Samarra in February 2006. Subsequent sectarian killings, facilitated by the collapse of governing and civil structures, led to a mass exodus from the country. Many of the refugees were at one time middle-class professionals: doctors, engineers, teachers, artists, filmmakers, administrators.
Jordan hosts between 500,000 and 750,000 Iraqis; Syria between 1.5 and 2 million. Several hundred thousand have made their way to Egypt, the Gulf States, Iran, Turkey, and Yemen. By the summer of 2007, some 60,000 Iraqis were fleeing Iraq each month, mainly to Syria—the last open border.
In October 2007, when Syria closed the last legal exit from the country, the flood of refugees subsided temporarily only to increase again in early 2008. Despite the perception, that fall, that Iraqis were choosing to return home, the Iraqi Red Crescent reported that less than 50,000 actually returned to Iraq from Syria in the last three months of 2007, when the Iraqi government began offering free bus transit and a payment of $800 to each returning family.
The vast majority of Iraqis who returned did so because their residency permits had expired or because they had run out of money to sustain their lives in exile. Many found their homes had been destroyed or occupied by other families in their absence.
The majority of refugees do not believe they can return to Iraq. Yet few nations have been willing to accept them. Many are now seeking any route of escape, no matter the cost and risk, often through human smuggling networks.
Since the most vulnerable refugees reside in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, we have decided to focus on those countries, as well as on Internally Displaced People (IDPs) inside Iraq, who have become refugees in their own country.
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According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…"
> Learn more about refugees from UNHCR's website