Field Reports  In-Depth Reports  Letters & Testimonies

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.

Field Reports
  • 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.
  • 12/05/2012
    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 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.