10 October 2011 |

Response still centred on return despite increasing IDP demands for local integration

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. 

Internal displacement in Iraq has followed many diverse causes, in a variety of locations and periods. Those displaced by the previous Ba’ath regime were principally from the rural Kurdish north and Shi’a south, whereas the sectarian violence which broke out following the bombing of the Askari mosque in February 2006 has mainly displaced people from the urban centres of Baghdad, Ninewa, and Diyala. The longer-term internally displaced people (IDPs) have often been perceived as victims requiring redress for past injustices, and those more recently displaced as vulnerable people in need of assistance. 

At a time when several countries in the Middle East have been rocked by socio-political upheaval, there are concerns that funding shortfalls could prevent the delivery of effective assistance in Iraq. Yet violence in Iraq remains comparatively high and continues to force people from their homes. Overall, only a very small fraction of all IDPs have returned to their homes or achieved durable solutions elsewhere.

Policy recommendations

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) should ensure that their promotion of returns, in their Comprehensive Plan to Address Displacement in Iraq, is matched by support for local integration.

Displacement stakeholders should take the opportunity offered by improving security to engage more directly with IDPs, to ensure that their concerns inform activities. 

International organisations should develop working relationships with local authorities, which have better access to IDPs and have more influence locally than central authorities.

Humanitarian organisations’ approach to displacement should be more comprehensive and include all internally displaced groups according to their needs rather than the timing and cause of their displacement. 

Background and patterns of displacement 

Most of the people newly displaced in 2011 have been members of minority communities. Attacks against religious minorities (in particular Christians) and their sacred sites continued in 2010 and 2011, with most of the victims being displaced to the predominantly Kurdish northern governorates or abroad.

As of November 2010, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that almost 1,660,000 people had been displaced within Iraq since 2006 and over 1,090,000 people had been displaced prior to that. The total of 2,750,000 IDPs is less than 20,000 fewer than in November 2009 (IOM, Governorate profile, November 2010). However, these figures should be approached with caution, and do not concur with figures provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM), the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which controls three northern governorates, or UNHCR which estimated that some 1,340,000 people were displaced from 2006 to January 2011, over 300,000 fewer than the IOM reported. IOM’s figures are based on an estimate of the number still displaced from before 2006, and the number of people who registered as internally displaced from 2006 onwards. 

MoDM has registered displaced people in 15 central and southern governorates, and KRG in the three northern governorates of Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah. Registration has remained voluntary and contingent on documentation which IDPs may lack. The estimates of the number of people displaced before 2003 are outdated and contested; particularly in northern Iraq, they have been subject to manipulation according to interested parties’ claims over disputed territories. The accuracy of estimates of the number of IDPs living in informal settlements has also been affected by a lack of consistency and coordination between humanitarian organisations working with the GoI and local authorities struggling to operate within a decentralised framework (IDP WG, November 2008; Brookings, October 2006; IDP WG, March 2008 ; IDMC interviews, November 2008; UNHCR, January 2011). 

It is estimated that the capital Baghdad hosts nearly 40 per cent of IDPs in Iraq. About half of the total displaced population after 2006 was either in Baghdad or Diyala, the second most affected governorate (IOM, February 2010). Nearly 60 per cent of IDPs were Shi’a and about 30 per cent were Sunni. The rest were from minority populations, notably Shabaks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Faeeli Kurds, Yazidis and Sabean Mandeans.

IDPs have overwhelmingly fled to areas where their own sectarian or ethnic group was dominant, leading to a demographic homogenisation of the country’s governorates and greater segregation of communities. Over 95 per cent of the people fleeing to the nine predominantly Shi’a governorates of the south were themselves Shi’as, while those that left them were overwhelmingly Sunnis. In the Sunni governorates of Anbar and Salah-al-Din, over 95 per cent of IDPs are Sunnis. 

Violence and displacement since 2007

In 2007 the overall rate of displacement in Iraq started to fall as that year saw a “surge” in the number of American troops deployed, a declaration of a ceasefire by the Shi’a Sadrist militia in March 2007, and some Sunni insurgent groups engaged in the developing democratic processes. Initiatives were taken to relax the stringent rules implemented since 2003, such as the “deba’athification” process, to accommodate Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish parties (UNSC, March 2007; ICG, April 2008). 

However, inter-ethnic and sectarian tensions in the northern disputed territories, fuelled by disputes over governorate borders, continued to cause displacement. Recurrent Turkish military bombardments on Iraq’s north-eastern borders with Iran and Turkey have also caused displacement in the Kurdish governorates. For example, bombardment in June 2010 resulted in the displacement of 945 families in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah (UNHCR, June 2010). 

In October 2010, an attack on a catholic church in Baghdad left more than 50 people dead and more than 60 injured. The next month, a series of coordinated bomb and mortar attacks targeted Christian homes across Baghdad, killing at least five and injuring at least 30. Several Christians were shot and killed in Baghdad and Mosul in November and December, and in December ten bomb attacks on Christian homes in Baghdad killed two people and wounded 20 (IOM May 2009; MRG, September 2009; IRIN, July 2008).

According to IOM, almost 1,100 Christian families moved to the KRG-controlled region between November 2010 and January 2011. By the end of February 2010, 720 Christian families (around 4,300 people) had been displaced from Mosul city to the nearby districts of Al Hamdaniyah and Tilkaif in Ninewa governorate. UNHCR also reported increased registration of Iraqi Christians in Syria and Jordan in the last two months of 2010 (USCIRF Annual Report 2011 - Countries of Particular Concern: Iraq; 28 April 2011; Iraq • Displacement in Mosul Situation Report No. 2; 2 March 2011). 

Violence and displacement in 2006 and 2007

The 2003 invasion and the policies pursued by the Coalition Provisional Authority and subsequent Iraqi governments deepened sectarian divisions, and the Sunni community was marginalised by Shi’a and Kurdish gains in elections and by the constitution adopted by referendum in 2005. The bombing in February 2006 of the Al Askari Shi’a shrine in Samarra set off a wave of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a militias which led to massive civilian casualties (ICG, February 2008). As a result by December 2007, close to 1.6 million people had been newly displaced.

In Baghdad, militant groups, including several affiliated to political actors and state institutions, sought to establish sectarian boundaries across what had been mixed neighbourhoods, systematically displacing members of opposing sects to consolidate their control (Brookings, August 2008). This also had the effect of heightening insecurity for all residents of these neighbourhoods. Those most affected were Sunnis and Shi’as in locations where they were members of minorities, and mixed Sunni/Shi’a households (HRW, November 2006). Most violence and displacement took place in and around Baghdad, but it was also significant in Ba’quba, Samarra, Mosul and Basra (UNSC, December 2006). 

Professionals, intellectuals and those associated with the coalition forces were also forced to flee (UNAMI, January 2007). Refugees, particularly Palestinians, and members of minority groups such as Chaldeans, Assyrians, Yazidis, Shabak, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandean and Roma also faced persecution, and many sought refuge in Kurdish regions. Iraqi Arabs continued to be forcibly displaced from the north: in the second half of 2007 at least 2,000 families fled Kirkuk (UNHCR, January 2007; IRIN, September 2007). 

Conflict and displacement between 2003 and 2006

An estimated 190,000 people were displaced between the March 2003 invasion and the end of 2005, particularly in the governorates of Anbar, Dhi-Qar, Basra and Baghdad (Cluster F, 2007; UNCT, August 2004). Operations by the Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) against armed insurgents were the main causes of displacement, particularly in predominantly Sunni western areas. Most displacements were relatively short-term. In November 2004, almost the entire population of Fallujah in the governorate of Anbar was temporarily displaced (Brookings, October 2006). Meanwhile, after the fall of the Ba’athist government, thousands of displaced Kurds, Turkomans and others began returning to Kirkuk and Mosul, while Arabs were forcibly displaced from these areas (RI, November 2003). 

Displacement before 2003

Prior to 2003, the Ba’athist government forcibly displaced entire populations it labelled as opponents. The government carried out “Arabisation” campaigns in the north to thwart Kurdish aspirations to independence and strengthen its control over oil reserves adjacent to the ethnically diverse city of Kirkuk. It evicted Kurds and offered their land and houses to Arabs as incentives to move there (RI, November 2003). The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 saw an intensification of atrocities against the Kurds, which caused over 100,000 deaths and the destruction of some 4,000 villages (USCR, 2000; Dammers, 1998; HRW, August 2004). After the 1991 Gulf War, the northern governorates of Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah came under Kurdish control, supported by a “no-fly zone”, and separated from the rest of the country. Inter-ethnic and sectarian tensions in the northern disputed territories, fuelled bz disputes over governorate borders, continued to cause displacement. 

In the predominantly Shi’a southern governorates over 340,000 people were internally displaced. The Ba’athist government gradually drained the marsh land in the catchment area of the Euphrates and the Tigris through unsuccessful agricultural development projects. The government accelerated the drainage process in the 1980s to facilitate the movement of military units during the Iran-Iraq war, and used chemical weapons and burnt villages it considered sympathetic to its enemies. Between 100,000 and 200,000 of the marsh land’s estimated population of 250,000 were displaced. Many thousands more were displaced from the border with Iran due to the Iran-Iraq war, of whom 80,000 people were still displaced within Basra province in 2004. Political and religious persecution was a further cause of displacement in the south and also in Baghdad, where it caused the displacement of at least 25,000 people (UNHCR, August 2004; Fawcett and Tanner, October 2002; UNCT, August 2004). 

86 per cent of the people internally displaced prior to 2003 sought refuge from the Ba’athist government’s forces in areas that became the no-fly zones; with about 60 per cent in the Kurdish northern governorates, and almost 30 per cent in the predominantly Shi’a southern governorates. 

Protection and assistance needs of IDPs 

Security in Iraq has improved since 2007, as GoI has taken responsibility for protecting the population and sectarian groups have gradually rejected violent armed struggle in favour of political processes. However, the continuing threat of both ongoing violence and that which might affect them if they return to their areas of origin, remains the main concern for IDPs. 

Internal displacement has profoundly marked the country. Neighbourhoods that once were mixed are now visibly dominated by one sectarian group, their territory marked with flags, sectarian pictures and graffiti; all of which were associated with abductions and assassinations which had triggered the initial displacements (IOM, February 2007; Brookings, October 2006). 

Threats to life, safety and security

In 2011, the majority-Shi’a southern governorates and the three KRG-controlled governorates are relatively safe, but the ethnically and religiously mixed northern areas of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Waset are disputed, with the KRG calling for the annexation of parts of these governorates (USCIRF Annual Report 2011 - Countries of Particular Concern: Iraq; 28 April 2011).

In February 2011, the US Force – Iraq reported that the rate of violence was at its lowest in Iraq since 2003, causing only about ten per cent of the 3,000 deaths per month of 2006 and 2007. Nonetheless, this still made for an average of 300 deaths a month and the majority of Iraqis remained unconvinced that security had improved. They still faced disruption to their daily lives; and they had no way of holding government officials to account for actions driven by nepotism and sectarian interest. Government security institutions were also under sectarian control; meanwhile sectarian violence was continuing and perpetrators enjoyed impunity (Christian Science Monitor, 8 February 2011, «US reports 20 per cent drop in Iraq violence»; 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department; November 17, 2010).

Shelter and access to basic services

Shelter remains an urgent priority for many Iraqis. The government has reported a deficit of some two million housing units. Many dwellings are dilapidated, unsafe and overcrowded. In 2009, 57 per cent of the urban population lacked access to clean water, sanitation or secure tenure. The US office overseeing the use of reconstruction and rehabilitation funds has listed the lack of basic services such as water, sewage and electricity, in all governorates, as the greatest source of potential instability in Iraq (OCHA, December 2009; Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Quarterly and Semi-annual Report to the United States Congress, 30 January 2011). 

Over 60 per cent of people internally displaced since 2006 were in 2009 reportedly living in rented housing, 15 per cent with host families and over 20 per cent in collective settlements in tents, former military camps and public buildings. Internally displaced tenants often endured overcrowded conditions in inadequate dwellings where they remained at risk of eviction. There is a possibility that the rate of eviction cases will increase as the value of land occupied by IDPs recovers. In June 2011, IDPs in Al Muqawamat camp were given 72 hours to vacate their camp, after the Baghdad municipal authority allocated the land to house staff (UNHCR, September 2008 and December 2009; IDP WG, November 2008; OCHA, December 2009).

The UN country team (UNCT) has encouraged the GoI to improve the security of tenure and access to adequate housing of all people in Iraq through its legislation. The UNCT has focused on populations living in poor rural areas and urban slums. It plans to assist the GoI to ensure that IDPs who return to their place of origin and others who are allocated land elsewhere are effectively reintegrated into their communities. According to the UN’s recent development strategy for Iraq: “Public-private partnerships will be facilitated to undertake pilot programmes, to build low-cost, and environment-friendly housing, especially in underserved areas” (United Nation Development Assistance Framework for Iraq 2011-2014; 11 May 2010).

Most IDPs, like many other Iraqis, rely on the Public Distribution System (PDS) for basic food, but they face considerable obstacles accessing it. A third of IDPs interviewed in a late-2009 UNHCR survey did not have a PDS card valid in their governorate of residence, and only 15 per cent of those with a card reported receiving their full monthly entitlement. 

In 2009 the majority of IDPs surveyed by UNHCR reported being able to obtain health care, but a quarter could not afford health care fees. According to NRC, there is a critical lack of medical oversight in IDP settlements and the Ministry of Health and international humanitarian organisations are only providing ad-hoc services. Epidemics have resulted: 68 cases of tuberculosis were recorded in Issa Bin Mariam camp in Abu Dessir sub-district of Baghdad during the first half of 2011(UNHCR, December 2009).


Unemployment has continued to affect most IDPs in Iraq. Many have been forced to flee to areas where employment opportunities are limited and public services overstretched or non-existent. Over 70 per cent of internally displaced families have no members employed, and the access to work of internally displaced women has been particularly limited. Host communities have increasingly struggled to share limited resources. While the Kurdish regions have sustained a higher economic growth rate, many IDPs there have had to learn Kurdish in order to enter the job market (Cluster F, February 2007; IDP WG, November 2008, UNHCR, December 2009; IOM, May 2009, and June 2008; IDP WG, June 2008).

Particularly vulnerable internally displaced groups

Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country had been punished as of 2010; arrests following a murder or other crimes in general were rare. Insecurity and an ineffective justice system have made it harder for the most vulnerable to seek protection and redress (2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department; November 17, 2010). 

In a survey in the second half of 2009, 28 per cent of returned IDPs reported being targeted by bombings, harassment, kidnapping and military operations due to their religious and political affiliation. A UNHCR survey of almost 2,400 returnees to Baghdad (about 72 per cent of whom had been internally displaced) found that 61 per cent of them regretted going home and 60 per cent of those cited security concerns as the reason (UNHCR, 11 October 2010). 

According to an ICRC report in 2009, between one and three million households were headed by women as a result of the decades of war and violence in Iraq. According to ICRC, the Iraqi authorities had developed a social welfare programme for widows but many did not receive their allowance because of corruption, beneficiaries’ lack of awareness of the programme and the lack of government capacity to reach them. A 2010 IOM survey of 1,400 displaced families headed by women found that 74 per cent who had returned to their place of origin were struggling to secure adequate nutrition for their family. Women heads of household often had to seek menial jobs and their children often had to leave school to help provide for the household, leaving them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and forced labour. Like the rest of the population the most vulnerable have limited access to the formal justice system and little confidence in its workings; in addition they have particularly little chance of getting the necessary documentation or income to resort to the justice system, and they often end up relying on traditional justice mechanisms which are not compliant with national and international human rights standards (United Nation Development Assistance Framework for Iraq 2011-2014; 11 May 2010; ICRC, IOM, IOM, May 2009; UNHCR, December 2009). 

Prospects for durable solutions 

Different mechanisms have been set up to respond to the situations of the populations displaced in the various periods. Measures to address pre-2003 displacement have been fraught with particular difficulties since their inception in 2006: for instance there has been no clear assessment of the needs of this group, which have been largely unaddressed by the Iraqi government as well as the international humanitarian community. The Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes (CRRPD), established by the GoI in 2006 to settle property disputes arising from displacement caused by the former government’s policies, had by October 2009 received over 152,000 claims but as of April 2009 only 1,000 decisions had been enforced. The CRRPD has not addressed the claims of people whose property has been destroyed, leaving without redress many victims of the former government such as Marsh Arab and Kurdish communities whose villages had been completely destroyed. 

There has been no resolution of the situations of the people displaced before 2003 in contested northern areas in the absence of agreement between the KRG and the GoI over disputed territories. Both have both cited the situation of IDPs and returnees to assert their claims over Kirkuk and Mosul, particularly in negotiating the details of a proposed but long-delayed population census.

In 2008, when rates of violence were still high, the GoI passed legislation to assist those displaced by sectarian conflict since 2006. Decree 262 and Cabinet Order 101 encouraged returns and ended the process of registration in 2009. This first GoI attempt to facilitate a form of settlement coincided with a period when a significant number of spontaneous returns followed the peak of the violence, but failed to reflect IDPs’ continuing concerns with security. The laws enabled the government to act against squatters who refused to leave within the framework of anti-terrorism legislation. UNHCR and the US government advocated with the GoI to show restraint against the forcible eviction of squatters. Meanwhile, the registration process continued in some governorates, underlining the lack of national coordination and the rise in influence of local authorities. 

Unlike IDPs who remained within the same governorate, unregistered IDPs outside their governorate of origin are unable to obtain marriage or birth certificates and as such cannot register their children in school. Unregistered IDPs have faced additional barriers to the enjoyment of their rights in their place of displacement; these have also stood in the way of their integration there. Unregistered IDPs have been unable to rent or purchase property, vote, obtain land title or access services including those specific to IDPs (UNHCR, August 2008 and November 2009). IDPs may not have registered because of bureaucratic delays, their lack of documentation, because they did not perceive any associated benefit, or were afraid of being identified by the authorities (IDMC interview, January 2010; UNHCR, December 2009). 

Each governorate has used different requirements for IDPs trying to register. Registration has been tightly restricted in areas with high levels of sectarian violence, such as Kirkuk. In northern governorates, IDPs without sponsorship were reportedly prevented from registering until recently. In 2009, the government issued an order halting further registration of IDPs, and it has not honoured promises to re-open it since (IOM, February and May 2009; IDMC interview, January 2010; UNHCR, 1 October 2010). 


In early 2011, over 66,000 returnee families (or around 400,000 individuals) had been identified across the country by IOM field monitors, around half of them in Baghdad governorate (IOM, Review of displacement and return in Iraq, February 2011). 

The GoI has implemented a number of measures to encourage returns but this support has only been of benefit to landowners. The main measures only relate to property disputes involving registered IDPs; they exclude claims regarding businesses and other non-residential property, and do not provide redress for returnees who have been forced to sell property under duress or who were tenants prior to displacement (USIP, April 2009; Brookings). 

The GoI established centres in Baghdad in 2008 to help returnees register and receive assistance. Returnees could receive a grant of around $850 (one million ID) and registered IDPs residing as secondary occupants could apply for rental assistance worth around $250 per month for six months to help them vacate returnees’ properties (Government of Iraq, August 2008). The government’s strategy to promote and facilitate returns has had mixed results. In 2009, approximately 60 per cent of IDPs surveyed by UNHCR said they had not sought assistance from relevant institutions as they lacked required documents, did not trust state institutions, could not afford the fees required, or feared retribution. By the end of 2009, only 40 per cent of surveyed returnees had registered and applied for a grant, and only 30 per cent of those who applied had actually received one. The rate of return declined from a high of 17,000 IDPs per month in July 2009 to 9,000 in June 2010 (IOM, 3 November 2009). 

In 2010 the leading obstacles to return included the continuing insecurity, the destruction of their houses, and the limited access to livelihoods and basic services there. Most returnees have gone back to neighbourhoods under the control of members of their community; nonetheless a UNHCR survey of returning refugees found that 61 per cent regretted returning to Iraq, with 60 per cent of this group citing insecurity and personal safety concerns. Around 77 per cent of those that returned to the two Baghdad districts of Karkh and Resafa said they did not return to their original place of residence either due to the general insecurity or because they still feared direct persecution. Many returnees whose property was being occupied illegally by militias, local residents or other IDPs feared harassment should they attempt to reclaim property (UNHCR, 19 October 2010; UNHCR, August 2010).

Local integration and settlement elsewhere 

By mid-2010, return was the preferred option of only 42 per cent of IDPs, while 37 per cent preferred to integrate in their place of displacement and 17 per cent to resettle elsewhere. The percentage of IDPs wishing to integrate locally had increased from 30 per cent since 2006. In the uniformly Shi’a south, integration was the favoured settlement option. An IOM survey in February 2010 found that over 40 per cent of IDPs wished to integrate locally across the southern governorates, with peaks at 76 per cent in Basra and 61 per cent in Dhi-Qar. In Baghdad, an NRC camp monitoring assessment found that over 80 per cent of IDPs would prefer to integrate in the local area as it would be easier for them to access employment, social services, education, and have established themselves to some various degree after years of displacement.

NGOs have repeatedly warned of the dangers of encouraging premature returns, and have drawn attention to the consequences of failing to consider local integration or settlement elsewhere in the country. The US embassy in Baghdad reported in early 2011 that a pilot integration initiative in Diyala had successfully aided 500 families but had not resulted in a significant increase in IDP returns. 

National and international responses 

Government of Iraq

Following the formation of the new government in December 2010, the MoDM renewed its previous 2008 attempt to “close the IDP file in Iraq and deal with all its negative impacts on the persons of concern and the Iraqi society in general” within a four-year plan. It aims to provide improved services for returning families and those who have sought to integrate in the place of their displacement with local government support, as well as a housing programme and better services in IDP settlements. However, the plan presents very ambitious deadlines which are likely to be difficult to meet, especially in the light of Iraq’s pervasive corruption and the lack of coordination between ministries and local authorities. 

The plan aims to provide “appropriate security conditions for the return of displaced families […] through the activation of the committees which were formed under Cabinet Order no. 101 of 2008 and […] evacuating IDPs houses occupied by squatters and creating the suitable environment for the safe returns”. The process uses repressive laws to expel current occupants of housing to encourage other IDPs to return, even though they are increasingly likely to have expressed a desire to integrate in the place of their displacement. 

The lack of genuine national reconciliation and the resulting insecurity have not allowed for the development of durable solutions for IDPs. The protection of IDPs’ rights and the national response to internal displacement continue to be severely impaired by sectarian and partisan politics, as well as by tensions between IDPs and host communities. The GoI’s decision to take different approaches to different internally displaced groups means IDPs who should be eligible are denied support. It is key that the government finds ways to harmonise its approach to the different caseloads by focusing on their IDP condition rather than their cause of displacement. It is also difficult to see how the response to internal displacement can move forward without some level of reconciliation and an overall agreement about power sharing in place. Returns cannot take place in areas where sectarian segregation is still a reality.

At the core of the challenge in Iraq lies the issue of governance. Iraq ranks 176th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2009 international corruption index. It lacks the systems necessary to ensure state accountability and transparency, including the inclusion of civil society organisations in governance processes (UNAMI April 2010)

International response

IOM and UNHCR have led the international response to displacement in Iraq, in the case of UNHCR to a large extent through implementing partners. They have also worked to enhance the capacity of the GoI and MoDM in particular. As such, UNHCR is engaged in partnership with MoDM and its four-year plan. UNHCR plans to take the lead in the areas of protection, return management, shelter, water and sanitation. It plans to promote an increased financial assistance, support documentation, access to education and health facilities, and restitution of property. UNHCR together with the US government has also been advocating for the reopening of registration and also for greater support to make returns sustainable, drawing lessons from the unsuccessful National Policy on Displacement of 2008 (UNHCR, 5 April 2011). 

At a time when several countries in the Middle East have been rocked by socio-political upheaval, there are concerns that funding shortfalls could prevent the delivery of effective assistance in Iraq. UNHCR’s 2011 global appeal reported a budget fall from over $264 million in 2010 to little over $210 million for 2011 at a time when MoDM itself only secured $250 million after forecasting over $400 million for their comprehensive plan. IDP programmes have remained at the top of IOM’s 2011 budget, covering $80 million of its overall Iraq 2011 budget of $250 million. The USA remained the most significant donor with over 32 per cent of the IOM budget. 

Policy recommendations 

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) should ensure that their promotion of returns, in their Comprehensive Plan to Address Displacement in Iraq, is matched by support for local integration.

Displacement stakeholders should take the opportunity offered by improving security to engage more directly with IDPs, to ensure that their concerns inform activities. 

International organisations should develop working relationships with local authorities, which have better access to IDPs and have more influence locally than central authorities.

Humanitarian organisations’ approach to displacement should be more comprehensive and include all internally displaced groups according to their needs rather than the timing and cause of their displacement.