Iraq: Response still centred on return despite increasing IDP demands for local integration
A woman and her daughter live in a modest shelter in northern Iraq with other family members, October 2010. © UNHCR, H. Caux
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31 December 2012
An estimated 2.1 million Iraqis were internally displaced as of the end of 2012, of whom more than three-quarters were living in protracted displacement. Iraq has experienced multiple waves of displacement over the past 30 years, the most serious of which took place after the 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine, when more than two million people fled sectarian violence. According to the Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MOMD), 235,610 people returned to their places of origin in 2012 and 1.1 million remained displaced. The official figures, however, do not take into account the displacements that took place before 2006, the fact that not all IDPs are registered as such, and the questionable nature of some returns.
Iraq’s IDPs live with families, in rented accommodation or in informal settlements in urban areas, and shelter continues to be one of their most pressing problems. As of the end of 2012, around 467,000 IDPs, returnees and squatters were living in more than 382 informal settlements across the country. Baghdad alone has 125 such settlements, where more than 191,000 people live in harsh conditions, with inadequate access to electricity, sanitation, schools and job opportunities. Given that the settlements were established illegally, residents face a high risk of eviction. Those who are evicted are forced into secondary displacement, driving them further into poverty. Parliament issued an order in 2010 to halt evictions from informal settlements, but they increased in number during 2012.
More than a year after the withdrawal of US forces, Iraq is still struggling to maintain national security and build political stability. Insecurity and a lack of livelihood opportunities continued to be the main factors which prevent IDPs from returning. Many do not hold official documents such as birth certificates and residency permits, without which they struggle to access basic services and reclaim their property.
Female-headed households are particularly affected by the lack of employment and livelihood opportunities. They are poorly protected and responsible for the wellbeing of family members, but have no income or social safety net and receive inadequate government support. The spread of religious conservatism has reinforced negative attitudes towards women, restricting their participation in public life in general and the labour market in particular. As a result, internally displaced women struggle to access the few economic opportunities available to IDPs. They have also become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and gender-based violence.
Violence continued to be unpredictable and sporadic during 2012, but the most insecure governorates, including Baghdad, Ninewa and Diyala, also experienced the highest levels of displacement. Tensions between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds remained high, and a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to ensure their security in their places of origin has deterred the majority of IDPs from returning. Instead, they have sought safety in areas where their own religious or ethnic group is dominant, with the smallest minorities settling in Kurdish-controlled areas. Ethnic and religious enclaves continued to grow during the year in several of the country’s governorates.
Iraqis who had previously sought refuge across the border in Syria have come back to escape the escalating conflict there, and in doing so many of these returning refugees have become IDPs. The fighting in Syria has developed along similar sectarian lines, which constitutes a threat to Iraq’s political stability.
Many Iraqi IDPs are living in protracted displacement, and the longer this continues the more difficult it will become to establish long-term solutions for return or resettlement. The government launched a four-year national plan aimed at ending displacement in 2011, under which it has focused on return as its preferred durable solution. Assessments by the International Organisation for Migration, however, show that 85 per cent of IDPs would rather integrate locally. With the support of UNHCR and other non-state organisations, the government is becoming more open to the concepts of local integration and resettlement.
MOMD has calculated that ending displacement will cost more than $600 million, while underlining that even with the allocation of the necessary funds the process will take a number of years. For IDPs this means a life in limbo, without adequate access to rights and services, while facing the constant threat of secondary displacement. Their plight has been overshadowed by competing priorities and the evolving crisis in Syria, and with the issue low on the government’s priority list and international funding decreasing sharply, their future remains uncertain.
Iraq: Government proposes comprehensive plan for durable solutions
After a year of political deadlock following the Iraqi parliamentary elections, the new Minister of Displacement and Migration has moved to establish a four-year plan to promote durable solutions for IDPs and refugees. The strategy, starting in January 2011, is designed to strengthen the structure of the ministry and improve its cooperation with the humanitarian institutions involved with IDPs. The Minister explained to Radio Free Iraq the need to support IDPs to integrate within their host communities or resettle elsewhere in the country, as well as to return to their places of origin, in line with international advocacy.
The plan would include a survey of IDP’s intentions and a study of the psychological and social impact on families of killings by militant organisations and the burning of their homes. The ministry stated that the plan would also encourage access to employment.
2010 saw some displacement, particularly of Christian families, the majority seeking refuge in the Ninewa plains and the Kurdish governorates. The ministry stated that it was cooperating with the Kurdish regional authorities to distribute financial and in-kind assistance to the people newly displaced. The Minister visited the Kurdish regions to discuss the coordination of assistance.
See also: IDMC Iraq country page
With the level of violence declining to levels unseen since the American-led intervention in 2003, Iraq is in 2011 moving away from an emergency situation to a development phase. However, new displacement still occurs and a large number of people have unmet humanitarian needs. The new government of Iraq (GoI) formed at the beginning of 2011 quickly launched a plan to address the displacement situation. The international community, led by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) has developed a Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) to coordinate the delivery of UN assistance from 2011 to 2014.
This new phase ushers in numerous challenges. As development plans are being drafted, the Iraqi state is still struggling with a political system which is neither inclusive nor transparent, and a centralised and inefficient public sector. Rule of law remains weak, massive corruption is pervasive and t human rights violations persist. Humanitarian organisations have only a partial view of the situation and needs of most Iraqis, and little opportunity to ensure beneficiaries participate in policy-making, due to security rules which have dramatically curtailed their presence outside limited areas. (...)
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10 October 2011
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Internal Displacement Profile
"Causes and Background","Background to the conflict in Iraq","Figures and registration","Patterns of displacement"
"Physical Security and Integrity","Physical Security","Family links and missing persons","Freedom of movement","Landmines and unexploded ordnance"
"Protection of special categories of IDPs","Minorities","Particular social groups and professionals","Women","Children"
"Basic Necessities of Life","Basic Necessities of Life","Shelter and housing","Food","Health and medical care","Water","sanitation and hygiene"
"Property, livelihoods, education and socio-economic rights","Employment and livelihood","Education","Land and property"
"Durable Solutions","Durable solutions","Returns","Local integration and other settlement options"
"National and International Responses","National and International Responses","Humanitarian access and challenges","National response to displacement","International response to displacement"
Previous Profile updates
- Key Documents
- Fallen off the agenda? More and better aid needed for Iraq recovery, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, Antares Foundation, Danish Refugee Council, Handicap International, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, et al, 8 July 2010
- Still Targeted: Continued Persecution of Iraq’s Minorities, Minority Rights Group International (MRG), 10 June 2010
- Four Years of Post-Samarra displacement in Iraq, International Organization for Migration (IOM), 24 March 2010
- Resolving Iraqi Displacement: Humanitarian and Development Perspectives, Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, February 2010
- Governorate Profiles, International Organization for Migration (IOM), 18 November 2010
- 2010 Humanitarian Action Plan, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), December 2009
- Assessment of Return to Iraq, International Organization for Migration (IOM), 3 November 2009