INTRODUCTION & CONTEXT
In 2018, Iraq underwent several staggering political and socio-economic events directly and indirectly affecting the situation of the close to 252,526 Syrian refugees living in the country, as well as 1.8 million Iraqis who remain internally displaced persons (IDPs) and four million recent IDP returnees.
Despite the challenging political climate in Iraq, the protection environment in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), where the majority of Syrian refugees reside, remained favourable in 2018. However, the absence of a legal framework for refugee protection in Iraq continues to preclude longer-term residency rights to stay and other legal benefits for Syrian refugees. The deteriorated economic situation and protracted presence of Syrian refugees in Iraq has negatively affected the livelihoods opportunities of Iraqis and Syrians alike, has stretched the existing public services and capacities of the hosting authorities, and has put the social cohesion between host and refugee communities under pressure. In line with the evolving situation on the ground, humanitarian assistance in Iraq continued to gradually transition from an emergency context to a longer-term development approach.
The Syrian refugee population in Iraq remained stable and new arrivals continued to be admitted on humanitarian grounds. Some 99 per cent of the Syrian refugee population is located in the KR-I, while the remaining one per cent resides in the Center and South. The vast majority of Syrians in Iraq are of Kurdish ethnicity. Some 37 per cent of the Syrian refugee population is living in one of the nine refugee camps across KR-I and 63 per cent resides in the host community. In 2018, 24,501 Syrian new arrivals were monitored at Peshkhabour border point and 22,128 Syrian refugees got registered with UNHCR, of which 12,180 new registration. Through the same border 54,241 Syrians were readmitted to Iraq.
The number of Syrian refugees in Iraq is expected to slightly decrease to 240,000 individuals in 2019, and to 235,000 individuals in 2020. Some spontaneous returns are projected to take place in the next two years, mainly among refugees living outside of camps in urban, peri-urban and rural areas.
As per the findings of recent return intention surveys, voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity remains the preferred durable solution for Syrian refugees across the region. All refugees have the fundamental human right to return in safety and dignity to their country of origin at a time of their own choosing. However, while some Syrian refugees will return in the short term, the return intention surveys also highlighted that many Syrian refugees are likely to remain in host countries for the medium term. Nevertheless, in 2018, 10,762 individuals spontaneously returned from KR-I to Syria (in comparison with 12,186 in 2017) through the only official border crossing at Peshkhabour. Reasons for return include family-related issues, lack of livelihoods opportunities in the KR-I, medical reasons. Documentation, checking on property, education, onward migration to other countries and improved security in the place of return were also mentioned as reasons for return.
The majority of Syrian refugees in the KR-I enjoy a relatively favourable protection environment as authorities have granted temporary residency permits, freedom of movement and the right to work. Despite budget constraints and the economic crisis, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and host community remain accommodating to the refugee population. However, the needs of refugees, particularly those living in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, have increased due to the persistently poor socio-economic situation and reduced livelihood opportunities. This decline in selfreliance has also sparked an increase in the number of refugees seeking relocation to camps. According to the 2018 Multi-Sector Needs Assessment’s (MSNA), 79 per cent of the Syrian households are in debt.