DTM: Urban Displacement in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

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As displacement within Iraq becomes increasingly protracted for internally displaced persons (IDPs), further research is needed to understand its causes and put forward potential durable solutions. The United Nations (UN) International Organisation for Migration Displacement Tracking Matrix (IOM DTM) undertook this research project “Urban Displacement in Iraq” with the primary objective of supporting evidence-based planning for the humanitarian community and the government of Iraq, and to inform the response to protracted displacement in this post-emergency phase. This report will detail findings from urban centres within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). An equivalent report is available for urban centres assessed within Federal Iraq.

Data for this assessment was collected on a sample of households, representative at the city level (95%, 5%), between March and December 2020 across ten urban centres of Iraq: Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, Baquba, Dahuk, Erbil, Kirkuk, Mosul, Sulaiymaniyah, Tikrit, Tuz Khormatu, and Zakho. Please refer to the methodological overview for further details.

The findings for the KRI cities – Dahuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Zakho – are presented in the attached factsheets, which give a detailed analysis of the conditions for IDPs in protracted urban displacement. The main findings are:

Socio-demographic composition

  • Whilst the remaining IDP caseload is largely stationary overall, the IDP population increased between August 2019 and August 2020 in half of the assessed KRI cities, namely Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. This population increase was mainly linked to the movement of IDPs due to camp closures in governorates of Federal Iraq.

  • Sulaymaniyah city hosts the highest proportion of IDPs compared to the host community, with an IDP to population ratio of 8.45 (ie: around one IDP per every 9 host individuals), whist Zakho has the lowest with a ratio of 15.69.

  • Between 11 per cent (Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah) and 14 per cent (Zakho) of the IDP population is 5 years old or younger and was born in displacement.


  • The extent to which households can rely on the income of the head of the household varies considerably across the assessed cities, with 72 per cent of households in Dahuk reporting that they are able to rely on such income, compared to only 45 per cent of households in Erbil. For female heads of household, this ranges from a high of 30 per cent in Dahuk to a low of 13 per cent in Erbil.

  • Dahuk also has the largest share of households who report having a stable source of income, with 69 per cent of households reporting this to be the case, compared to only 38 per cent of households in Sulaymaniyah. The highest proportion of households relying on informal commerce or daily labour is also at its highest in Sulaymaniyah where 61 per cent of households report this as a main source of income.

Primary needs in area of displacement

  • Medical care is the most pressing need across the four cities, with the situation most severe in Dahuk where 58 per cent of households reported this as one of their top three needs.

  • Shelter conditions appear to be worst in Sulaymaniyah, with 69 per cent of households reporting the need for a new shelter, compared to around one-quarter of households in the other three cities.

  • Food was reported as a main need at a much higher rate in Dahuk, with 42 per cent of households reporting compared to between 20-30 per cent in the other cities.

Levels of peaceful coexistence and feelings of safety and security

  • IDPs are living in relative safety across all four cities. The lowest levels of safety were reported in Dahuk, where 91% of households reported feeling completely safe, compared to 100% in the other three cities. Additionally, the good security situation was reported as the best aspect of living in the area of displacement in all four cities.

  • IDPs are coexisting peacefully in all four cities, with low levels of discrimination reported and the majority reporting comfort in seeking help from the authorities if needed. The highest levels of discrimination were reported in Dahuk, where 13 per cent of families reported having experienced unfair treatment as a result of being an IDP, whilst the highest proportion of families reporting they would not feel comfortable seeking help from authorities were in Zakho with 16 per cent of households reporting this.

Future intentions and influencing factors

  • Zakho had the largest proportion of IDPs reporting that, in the event that no obstacles to return existed, they would prefer to stay in their area of displacement at 66 per cent of households. When asked the same question, Sulaymaniyah had the largest proportion of households that reported a future intention to return to their area of origin, with 44 per cent. Of this 44 per cent, however, only 10 per cent had made any concrete plans to return, and over half (53 per cent) reported they will return in 1-2 years or longer, showing that despite this greater intention to return, the majority are likely to remain in the area of displacement for at least the next 1-2 years.

  • Even though more than half of IDP households across all four cities reported an intention to stay in their area of displacement in the long term, the vast majority continue to self-identify as being IDPs, ranging from 70 per cent in Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah up to 87 per cent in Zakho.

  • Across all cities, those households that reported having previously attempted to return (once or more than once) are more likely to report that their future intention is to return to their area of origin. This shows that failed returns do not discourage households from wanting to return in future, and potentially even make them more determined to do so. Additionally, the findings indicate that households who attempted return have greater economic means than those who do not, which is likely a factor in their ability to attempt return rather than an indicator of their vulnerability.

  • Households headed by a female are more likely to report that their future intention is to stay in the area of displacement, which is likely related to their higher level of vulnerability making return more challenging.

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