Iraq - Refugees: Be Prepared

The pitiful sight of many thousands of Iraqi refugees moving into the mountains on the Turkish border after the 1991 Gulf war touched prime ministers and presidents worldwide. The policy of safe havens was born. But planning for any new refugee crisis is woefully inadequate.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 February 2003 5 minute READ

Gil Loescher

Senior Fellow, Forced Displacement and International Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London

There has been little public discussion about the possibility of a mass exodus of Iraqi refugees as a consequence of a US-led attack against Iraq. Nor has any consideration been given to the implications of a refugee crisis on the security and stability of Iraq’s immediate neighbours. Yet, as past humanitarian emergencies clearly demonstrate, early planning is essential for the uncertainties of military action.

Perhaps the most alarming feature of present contingency planning is the almost total lack of coordination between the US government and military, the UN agencies, and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The military has been unwilling to discuss its contingency plans or assumptions for fear of revealing its war strategy. Consequently, NGOs are left in a void, unable to know what other major actors are planning and prevented from making adequate plans because of government restrictions on their activities in Iraq and Iran.

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