Overall, Iraq continues to face long-standing large-scale displacement and pressing humanitarian needs. Most recently, the civil war in Syria has forced tens of thousands of people to seek shelter in Iraq, including Iraqi refugees who fled there after the U.S.-led invasion. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has responded to the influx of Syrian refugees, but services remain inadequate and unsustainable. The region’s camps are increasingly overcrowded and local communities are overburdened.
Current Humanitarian Situation
With no end sight to Syria’s civil war, the direction of forced migration for many Iraqi refugees has reversed. Tens of thousands of Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria between 2003 and 2011 are returning home, bringing the number of Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) to roughly 2.8 million. Internally displaced Iraqis are extremely vulnerable and live in constant fear, with limited access to shelter, food, and basic services. Although the Government of Iraq announced plans in January 2011 to address internal displacement issues, the vast majority of Iraqi IDPs continue to live in temporary shelters. The unemployment rate among IDPs remains high, and women, children, and persons without official identification documents are particularly vulnerable.
At the same time, a rapidly growing number of Syrians are fleeing to Iraq. As of July 2013, more than 150,000 Syrians had registered in Iraq, and the UN Refugee Agency estimates that this figure could nearly double by the end of the year. The KRG has kept its border to fleeing Syrians. Many seek shelter in the Domiz camp in Dohuk Province. Other refugees have chosen to live in urban areas, where they are integrated into the national systems of education and health care. However, social services structures and programs are underdeveloped and ill-equipped to handle such a heavy load, both within and outside Domiz camp. The camp remains over capacity, even after repeated expansions. It is also underfunded, understaffed, and unable to provide effective services – particularly with respect to registration. Agencies working in the camp are so overwhelmed that they have very little time to identify and address the needs of the most vulnerable refugees.
Most residents of Domiz are allowed in and out of the camp depending on their circumstances, and the protection Domiz provides is somewhat better than what many refugees could obtain outside the camp. Although urban refugees have some options for assistance, they are often forced to relocate to camp once their resources dry up.
It is indeed admirable of the KRG to handle its humanitarian response with so little help from the international community. However, the duration and magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis have outstripped the capacity of the KRG, and the international community must offer greater support.