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Economic Survey of Syrian Refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, April 2014

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With the protracted crisis in Syria entering its fourth year in 2014, more than 2,6 million Syrian people have fled to neighbouring countries.1 Around 220,000 have found refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), with 95,877 Syrians residing in camps located throughout the three Governorates of the KRI.2 This represents roughly 40% of the total Syrian refugee population in the KRI, the remaining 60% having settled in host communities. With an increasing number of refugees having lived in these camps for months and in some cases years, the need to understand the different livelihoods strategies used by refugee households to meet their daily needs has come to the forefront.

In consultation with the Livelihoods Working Group (WG) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), REACH Initiative (REACH) was mobilised to assess livelihoods across refugee camps in the KRI. The Livelihoods WG identified several information gaps with regards to livelihoods strategies and cash-for-work (CFW) activities in refugee camps. Most needed was information on how (and if) Syrian refugees earn a living, what their spending patterns are and how CFW activities can be appropriately designed and oriented in the KRI camps. This assessment aimed to provide an overview of the livelihoods strategies developed by Syrian refugees living in camps throughout the KRI, while evaluating the relative importance of CFW amongst their income-generating activities.

Data gathering for this assessment took place between February 18th and February 27th 2014 in all refugee camps across the KRI: Basirma, Darashakran, Kawergosk and Qushtapa camps in Erbil Governorate, Arbat transit camp in Sulaymaniyah Governorate, and finally Domiz, Gawilan and Akre in Duhok Governorate. The methodology followed for this assessment was based on mixed-method data collection in order to ensure a proper balance of qualitative and quantitative data. The total number of assessed households was 2,283. Simultaneously, sex and age-specific Focus Group Discussions (FDGs) were conducted with groups of 7 to 10 persons, enabling further in-depth analysis of camp dynamics with regards to livelihoods activities of Syrian refugee households.

The main findings from this assessment clearly show that income-generating activities currently available to Syrian refugee households living in camps in the KRI are not sufficient to cover basic needs. More specifically:

  • Nearly half (47%) of respondents reported no source of cash/income for their household in the 30 days preceding the assessment
  • Only 20% of interviewees reported to be fully able to meet their household basic needs
  • Slightly less than half (43%) of refugee households have had at least one member involved in CFW activities since their arrival in the camp
  • Only 12% of households reported having a female member hired in CFW activities since their arrival
  • Food constituted by far the most significant proportion of expenditure, as reported by 81% of households
  • Nearly all households living in the KRI camp settings reported having exhausted their savings: of the 65% of households who arrived in the KRI with savings, only 4% said they had savings left
  • More than half of the respondents (58%) have reported their households contracted debts since their arrival.

The findings in this report highlight that a significant proportion of refugees living in camps in the KRI have little to no access to income-generating activities, and those who do can often not manage to fully meet their households’ needs.