Field Reports  In-Depth Reports  Letters & Testimonies

Iraq has seen a resurgence of large-scale displacement and pressing humanitarian needs in the past twelve months. The civil war in Syria forced hundreds of thousands of people to seek shelter in Iraq, including Iraqi refugees who fled there after the U.S.-led invasion. More recently, over three-quarters of a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and an even larger number are displaced throughout the rest of the country.

Current Humanitarian Situation

As Syria’s civil war has dragged on, 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 have returned home, joining about a million Iraqis who were already internally displaced. This year, the advance of the Islamic State group in central Iraq forced more than three-quarters of a million people from their homes, bringing the total number of Iraqi IDPs to roughly two million.

Internally displaced Iraqis are extremely vulnerable and live in constant fear, with limited access to shelter, food, and basic services. Although the Iraqi government 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.

Unfortunately, many of the IDPs in central Iraq are beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies, located in areas where armed groups are active and insecurity prevents adequate assistance. In these places, IDPs have often been displaced several times and have extremely limited access to safer areas. Religious and ethnic minorities face an additional fear of discrimination when searching for safety and aid.

At the same time, roughly 250,000 Syrian refugees have sought safety in Iraq – primarily in the KRI – and more continue to arrive as the Syrian conflict continues. Though a number of camps have been established for the refugees, the majority live outside those camps and struggle to get by in the cities and towns of the KRI. Social services structures and programs are underdeveloped and ill-equipped to handle such a heavy load.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has welcomed both the Syrian refugees and the IDPs with a tremendous amount of concern and good will. But its finances are troubled, and its ability to provide humanitarian aid is limited. The situation is further complicated by Iraq’s central government, which is reluctant to take responsibility for the displaced Iraqis and provide them with aid on the scale that they require.

Field Reports
  • 10/29/2014

    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.

  • 02/04/2014
    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.
In Depth Reports
  • 04/15/2008
    Five years after the US -led invasion, Iraq remains a deeply violent and divided society. Faced with one of the largest displacement and humanitarian crises in the world, Iraqi civilians are in urgent need of assistance. Particularly vulnerable are the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes for safer locations inside Iraq.
  • 03/22/2007
    Four years after the U.S. launched its attack against Iraq, the civil war there has produced a humanitarian crisis marked by the world’s fastest growing refugee and internally displaced populations. But Iraq, Washington and the U.N. do not acknowledge the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis. This has led to an inadequate response, both within Iraq and in the region.
RI has consistently recommended more support for services that assist Syrian refugees outside of camps. Even as many large aid agencies and non-governmental organizations established programming in camps, RI repeatedly noted the lack of support for those living outside of them and requested that donors and service providers pay more attention to this enormous population. Finally, as part of its 2014 regional response plan for Syria, the UN Refugee Agency announced that it would specifically focus more of its efforts on non-camp refugees in the region.