About 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled the conflict in central Iraq to seek safety further north in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). They are scattered across the KRI in a variety of temporary housing situations: though a small number of them are in camps, most live informally in local schools, unfinished buildings, and public parks. Half a million of them are in the city of Dohuk alone. The great majority of these 850,000 internally displaced are members of religious minorities – Christians from the Ninewa Plains and Yazidis from the Sinjar area, in particular.
With the support of donor states and the humanitarian community, the Kurdistan Regional Government and Jordan have done a remarkable job in responding to the immediate challenges of the refugee influx. But the limitations of emergency assistance are becoming clear. A new and longer-term approach is now required – one that gives more attention to the situation of refugees living outside of camps, provides greater support to the communities most directly affected by the refugees’ presence, and entails more extensive engagement by development organizations.
The civil war in Syria has forced large numbers of Syrians from their homes, and in many cases from the country entirely. Refugees continue to flee in record numbers, and there are currently almost 400,000 registered or waiting for registration in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey combined. The United Nations has said it expects this number could reach 700,000 by December 31, 2012. About half of all the registered Syrians are living in camps, but the other half remain in local host communities trying to get by on their own.
In Syria, women and girls are being targeted for rape on a massive scale. This is one of the primary reasons many are fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. As refugees, however, these women and girls remain vulnerable to multiple forms of gender-based violence (GBV). This crisis requires urgent action. The United Nations Refugee Agency should immediately prioritize protecting Syrian women and girls to ensure they receive greater assistance and prevent further violence against them.
The next two years will be defining ones for the future of Iraq and the
United States' legacy in the region. It would be a grave mistake for the
U.S. Government to diminish efforts to protect and assist Iraq's
displaced. A reduction of funding and diplomacy on the issue could
undermine stated U.S. foreign policy goals and lead to the creation of a
second large-scale protracted displacement crisis in the Middle East.
The humanitarian situation facing Iraqi refugees and internally
displaced people is quickly becoming a protracted one for which the
U.S. bears special responsibility. Though the country is well
positioned to generate vast sums of revenue from its oil, it will take
many years before the government is able to rebuild the country’s
infrastructure and provide basic services to its people. Ongoing
political and security concerns continue to challenge development
efforts. It is thus critical that the U.S. and other donors continue
to support a strong and expanded humanitarian program, working
hand-in-hand with a variety of community development initiatives.
The Iraqi refugee crisis is far from over and recent violence is
creating further displacement. Iraqi women will resist returning home,
even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing
their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their
families’ well being.
The number of displaced Iraqis remains high, both inside the country and in neighboring ones. They remain reluctant to go back due to lack of security, the creation of ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, and poor government services.
Having fled killings, kidnappings, torture, and death threats, about
3,000 Palestinian refugees from Iraq are currently stranded in three
camps along the border between Syria and Iraq. Denied asylum and
refugee rights, they are extremely vulnerable in poorly situated camps.
The Syrian government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
are both open to third country resettlement on humanitarian grounds and
on the basis of individual choice.
Two million Iraqi refugees are increasingly desperate and
few of them are willing to return home. Although the United Nations and donor
governments have dramatically increased their response to Iraqi refugees' needs,
these efforts must be expanded as refugees are increasingly vulnerable due to
depleting assets and rising costs.
In 2007, the international community
finally started responding to the plight of Iraqi refugees in the
Middle East. The attention to the crisis resulted in increased funding
that allowed the UN—particularly the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)—and
non-governmental organizations to develop and expand their programs.
Still, much more remains to be done to identify and meet the particular
needs of refugees from mixed socio-economic backgrounds living in
developed urban areas.
Iraqis are now the third largest
displaced population in the world, after Palestinians and Sudanese.
Their number will likely continue to grow as violence in Iraq shows no
signs of diminishing.
Estimates identify 2.5 million refugees, with Syria and Jordan, two
countries with sizeable Palestinian populations as well, hosting the
vast majority. Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey have also received
significant flows of Iraqi refugees.