This evaluation covers UNHCR country operations in Iraq between 2018 and 2019, in the post-conflict transition period. The purpose of the evaluation is to examine results achieved in the areas of protection, inclusion and durable solutions, and to look at UNHCR Iraq’s strategic positioning during this period. The overall goals are learning and accountability, to support and inform UNHCR Iraq’s ongoing efforts in transitioning from emergency programming to interventions aimed more specifically at durable solutions. Where relevant, the evaluation seeks to highlight the main features in the operational environment that either constrain or enable efforts in the transitional period. The evaluation covers the three largest (in terms of numbers) persons of concern (PoC) groups served by the operation, i.e. refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees, in both federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).
An adverse context
Over two years after the conclusion of military operations against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, the bulk of UNHCR operations in the country remains geared to emergency, with only a fraction of activities squarely aimed at durable solutions. This is not a matter of choice or policy, but rather one of necessity: the volume of acute humanitarian needs remains significant across the country.
The “post-conflict” period has not, so far, enabled the hoped-for transition from emergency response to recovery and development programming. Political instability and armed violence in Iraq remain widespread. The beleaguered federal government has not engaged substantively in joint recovery and reconstruction planning with its UN counterparts. Public service provision remains highly erratic, with limited budget sources and inadequate capacities at the provincial and district levels. Most tellingly from a humanitarian standpoint, almost 1.4 million people in Iraq are still forcibly displaced. Many of those who have returned live in highly precarious conditions, in terms of both their physical and their economic security.
Limited engagement on the part of the federal government is hampering progress towards durable solutions.
The evaluation found that the current political environment severely constrains opportunities to support the federal government in its compliance with international standards. With substantial advisory input from UNHCR, the federal Ministry of Interior (MoI) drafted a refugee law in 2018. However, the bill’s adoption was stalled by political unrest, and it has not been reintroduced since. The federal government has also formally adopted a range of policy frameworks on IDPs. Despite strong advocacy by UNHCR and others, these have so far failed to gain traction. A number of ad hoc government decisions taken in the past year have contravened the principles laid out in this body of policies.
In view of securing durable solutions for IDPs, cooperation with the federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs(FedMoLSA) is strategically key. However, adverse political conditions have so far prevented UNHCR from engaging with this ministry substantively. Fed-MoLSA has been slow to buy into technical work championed by UNHCR and aimed at providing a basis for harmonized beneficiary targeting in cash-based and ministry-led social protection programmes.
More promising is UNHCR’s joint programme with the federal government to provide civil documentation to Iraq’s many undocumented IDPs. This intervention fulfils an urgent need, while also improving long-term prospects for the improved security and self-reliance of IDPs. However, it has only recently begun to be mainstreamed, and still needs to be significantly scaled up to become commensurate with the scale of need.
In KRI, which hosts most of the country’s refugee population, conditions are much more favourable to the compliance of local authorities with international standards, and to the roll-out of interventions geared to the inclusion of displaced groups. UNHCR has proactively sought to leverage this more favourable environment, by engaging closely with KRI authorities at both regional and governorate levels.
In KRI, as in federal Iraq, slow economic growth, limited private sector development and high unemployment are limiting opportunities for economic inclusion among displaced groups. The phasing out of livelihoods support to host communities, agreed this year by UNHCR and other UN humanitarian agencies, may make it difficult to sustain what gains have been achieved in social cohesion
Programme delivery in KRI is generally well executed.
The evaluation found that despite severe obstacles, UNHCR’s response to the emergency needs of protracted refugees in KRI had successfully met standards. There is evidence that addressing these needs is becoming increasingly difficult, given growing budget constraints.
The evaluation found that UNHCR’s response to the sudden-onset influx of Syrian refugees into KRI, in October 2019, had been delivered in a timely and effective way. This is despite the fact that some participating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported a lack of operational clarity and direction in the early stages of the response, owing mainly to the overlapping coordination mechanisms led by UNHCR and OCHA in KRI.