Access to Durable Solutions Among IDPs in Iraq - Part One, April 2017


More than four million Iraqis live as internally displaced persons (IDPs), comprising over 10% percent of the country’s population of 36 million. Repeated rounds of internal displacement have plagued Iraq for decades, most recently with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the subsequent fighting. This longitudinal study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Georgetown University identifies the ways in which Iraqi IDPs experience displacement, adapt to their circumstances, and create durable solutions. Through surveys of about 4000 Iraqi families displaced since January 2014, and qualitative interviews with host communities and IDPs, the study aims to help researchers and policymakers build more accurate and nuanced understandings of IDPs’ realities in order to foster more effective durable solutions. As spelled out in the Framework on Durable Solutions by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), achieving a durable solution means that the IDPs no longer face particular vulnerabilities resulting from their displacement and that they enjoy their full human, legal, and communal rights without discrimination on account of their displacement. This report represents the findings and analysis of the first round of data collection, completed in March-April 2016; additional rounds of data collection will allow longitudinal comparisons as IDPs return, integrate, and resettle. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the IASC durable solutions framework and background on Iraqi displacement.

The four governorates of study (Baghdad, Basrah, Kirkuk, and Sulaymaniyah) hosted roughly 33% of IDP families displaced by ISIL in Iraq – approximately 180,000 families out of a total of 522,000 displaced families throughout the country in December 2015. The rationale for the selection of these governorates, covered in Chapter 2, includes the heterogeneity of the displaced population with respect to governorate of origin and religious background and the variation in the numbers of IDPs hosted by each governorate, along with the fact that they could be accessed with reasonable safety. The study included only those IDPs living outside of camps (camp residents made up 10% of the IDP population at the time of the first round of study).

A variety of central governmental policies enacted by the General Council of Ministers after January 2014 (in Appendix 4) specifically address IDPs’ needs, such as the ability to move their place of public employment, new housing loans for the poor, a one-time payment for IDPs of 1 million Iraqi Dinars (approximately $840), and compensation for those who lost homes in the fighting. The implementation of these policies has met with varying degrees of success: 94% of all IDPs are registered with the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD), many received the 1 million dinar payment, and people reported retaining their government-sector jobs. However, none had received compensation for lost homes (and most did not even know that such compensation was possible).

Chapter 3 provides the overall conclusions of the first round of the study, showing that displacement is indeed an effective protection strategy, with the vast majority of IDPs feeling much safer in their current place of residence than in the place from which they moved. In general, this is not always the case for IDPs, but due to the welcoming attitudes of society in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, only a tiny minority reported discrimination or violence toward them because they were IDPs. As the liberation of ISIL-controlled areas continues, a meaningful comparison can be made between those who fled and those who remained and returnees, in terms of safety and other indicators of durable solutions.

Prior ties and histories matter and seem to be directly linked to perceptions of personal security. Baghdad – the governorate where IDPs reported feeling least secure – is also the governorate where IDPs reported feeling accepted the least by the community (64%), with greater feelings of acceptance in Kirkuk (77%), Basra (89%), and Sulaymaniyah (96%). Over a quarter of IDPs in Kirkuk came from another area of Kirkuk, and thus tend to feel safer because they count themselves “as among the people of Kirkuk,” as expressed by one respondent. This is similar to the situation for many IDPs in Basrah who were originally from Basrah or chose to come to Basrah because they had family or friends there. This sense of belonging, whether based on family ties, familiarity with the area, former employment, or other links, has a direct positive impact on people’s sense of safety and security in the governorate of displacement. Interestingly, 96% of IDPs in Sulaymaniyah, part of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and with an overwhelmingly Kurdish population, report feeling accepted. This is despite the fact that 90% of the IDPs report themselves as Arab. This fact speaks to the limitations of a ethnicity-based analysis of IDP movement that suggests that people move to be with their own communities.

Although people report feeling safe and secure in their new places of residence, they experience stark declines in their standards of living and in particular the quality of their housing, Increasing demand on the rental housing market pushed prices up and pushed many into slum-like conditions as well as negatively impacting the poor among the host community. IDPs found solutions in relying first and foremost on family and friends -- through sharing housing (around 25%) and borrowing money (nearly 50%) -- and additionally on aid and charity. These networks pulled 87% of IDPs into urban areas where they had family and labor connections. This percentage of IDPs living in urban areas is higher than the percentage of urban residents for the country as a whole (70%). This finding indicates that policies should be adjusted accordingly to ease the burden on urban communities by increasing services for all. Policies are also needed to assist IDPs from rural areas to stay in areas where they have the skills to work and thus also encouraging the redevelopment of Iraq’s rural areas with new governmental agricultural projects or incentives for land-owners to expand agricultural projects.

Accessing employment that can sustain a family’s needs remains a challenge. While certain sectors (government civil service, military, the oil industry, etc.) allow IDPs to transfer jobs to their new places of residence, and some found employment in the private sector, for others, their skills (such as farming) were no longer suitable for the labor markets where they currently live. As a result, family members, including young adults, women, and formerly self-employed men work intermittent jobs or menial labor. The study reveals how the lack of regular employment impacts their sense of self-esteem and their ability to care for their children and send them to school. Such experiences also push these families, already the most disadvantaged, to be among the first to return to their places of origin. The increased competition for informal sector labor also impacts the local population who face increased competition with IDPs for ever-lower wages, thus disproportionately affecting the most needy among the host community.

While return to community of origin is usually seen as the most desirable durable solution from a policy perspective, it is not the most desired from the perspective of many IDPs. Those who have found suitable housing and have re-created some semblance of their livelihoods, or those who feel considerably more secure, express a desire to stay where they are rather than return. In addition, the study finds that IDPs decide to return primarily based on the security situation in the community from which they were displaced. Other factors -- employment and finances as well as the presence of housing -- are the next most important in their decision about return. Thus, with the liberation of areas from ISIL, if IDPs are to return, it is essential that security and safety be restored to those areas and that there be ways for returnees to re-create their livelihoods.

What this study ultimately indicates is the need for a more contextual and nuanced approach to durable solutions for IDPs than is usually the case, as summarized in Chapter 4. While over the last three years Iraqi central government has enacted legislation to assist IDPs, there has been no progress in implementing the promised compensation and reparations for what they have lost. International aid has played an important role in meeting the needs of displaced Iraqis. And some Iraqis have found durable solutions with assistance from their family, friends, and host community members. But ultimately, it is only in ensuring security for all Iraqis that IDPs will find durable solutions. Policies enacted that support Iraqi IDPs will assist them to reestablish their lives, livelihoods, and meaningful social integration whether through return, integration or resettlement.

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