RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
For the first time, more Iraqi refugees are returning home from Syria than are arriving there. It's just a trickle. There are still more than one and a half million Iraqi refugees in Syria. But more of them are considering going home because they believe security conditions have improved, or they've run out of money.
NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Damascus.
DEBORAH AMOS: At the Iraqi embassy in Damascus, families come every day hoping their government will finance another convoy of buses from Damascus to Baghdad.
Adnan al Sharify, who organized the first convoy last week, says there are no plans yet for another. But he's convinced that security in Iraq has improved so much that all the refugees will return home soon.
Mr. ADNAN AL SHARIFY: (Through translator) For sure, absolutely, this will be the beginning of the solution, the whole solution.
AMOS: When do you think that all the Iraqis will be back?
Mr. AL SHARIFY: (Through translator) I see this day really close.
AMOS: While Iraqi officials highlight security improvements, interviews with Iraqi refugees reveal many are going back because it's just too difficult to stay in Syria.
(Soundbite of bus depot)
AMOS: At a bus depot south of Damascus, Iraqis huddle in the cold night air, shoving their meager belongings onto a bus bound for Baghdad. They won't give their last names, but they will tell their stories.
Loue Adnan(ph) and his sisters say they have almost no money left, just enough for the bus tickets. They can't wait any longer for the government to pay their way back home.
Ms. LOUE ADNAN (Refugee): (Through translator) Since one week we are waiting but our rent is finished so we have to go back.
AMOS: And how many - one, two, three - four of you?
Ms. ADNAN: Four.
AMOS: In October, Syria made it harder for Iraqis to enter the country. About 1,000 return to Iraq every day, but still at least 500 cross into Syria daily - running from a kidnapping, a bombing, or a personal threat.
Falah Jaber, an Iraqi sociologist, says those who have been personally targeted for violence will be the last ones to consider going home.
Mr. FALAH JABER (Sociologist): What we have seen thus far is just a trickle. You know, we have one and a half million - you know, the return of 30,000 is not yet a pro-return case. It's not yet.
AMOS: In Damascus, more than 50,000 Iraqi refugees need food packages to survive and come to this U.N. distribution center. Officials with the U.N. Food Program here expect that number will grow to 100,000 by the winter.
Laurens Jolles heads the U.N. refugee office in Damascus.
Mr. LAURENS JOLLES (U.N. High Commission for Refugees): We need to help them and it's not becoming less, it's becoming more. So this is a time to gear up and try to do more. But on the other hand, you have persons who are - who wish to make us believe that the situation is improving and that thus there is no need for that anymore. And I think there is a real danger.
AMOS: Iraqis still sign up at the refugee office every day. With a U.N. ID card, they're eligible for monthly food rations and blankets for the winter ahead. One woman in line, who wouldn't give her name, said her sons were targeted by militants. That's why the family came to Syria, but she can't work here and is running out of options.
Unidentified Woman: No job. We lost our job in Iraq, and here no job.
AMOS: Will you go back to Baghdad?
Unidentified Woman: No, I can't.
AMOS: You wouldn't go on the government bus?
Unidentified Woman: No, no, no. No, no. No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Damascus.
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