Caught in the Middle: The Ongoing Plight of Displaced Iraqis

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Our most recent Ground Truth Project Interview with Daryl Grisgraber and Marc Hanson of Refugees International highlights the ongoing displacement crisis in Iraq. Iraq remains one of the most displaced countries in the Middle East — second only to Syria – and in the world. More than 3 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes in recent decades.

The displacement of Iraqis is not a new phenomenon, with waves of forced migrations occurring throughout the rule of Saddam Hussein, stemming from the violent repression of opposition groups and wars, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Anfal genocide, and the 1991 failed uprising.

Over 160,000 registered Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq, many to camps in Iraqi Kurdistan

However Iraq has never seen the scale of displacement as occurred during Iraq’s civil war from early 2006 to early 2008. In cities like Baghdad, sectarian militants set up false security checkpoints, evicted people from their homes and seized properties, and carried out a campaign of harassment, kidnappings, and targeted killings forcing millions of residents to flee. An alarming number of those Iraqis remain displaced, and although in lower numbers, the recent escalation of violence continues to force residents to flee their homes for safer areas in Iraq or abroad. The Syrian conflict further exacerbates the crisis, contributing to the region’s humanitarian needs, instability, and violence, and creating fewer places of safety for vulnerable Iraqis to seek refuge.

As my colleague David noted in his recent post, there are also Iraqi families who remain in danger as a result of their affiliation with the US military or other foreign agencies.

Now, on top of the Iraqi displacement crisis, population pressures are being felt around the region as millions of Syrians flee into neighboring countries. Grisgraber and Hanson recently visited some of the refugee centers in Turkey and Iraq, and were able to shed light on the current refugee situation inside and out of the camps.

The current number of registered Syrian refugees in Iraq is over 160,000, and as Grisgraber and Hanson describe, about 95% of them are landing in the northern Kurdish region. Most of the Syrian refugees that are arriving in Iraqi Kurdistan are in fact Kurdish, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been generally welcoming.
The camp of Domiz in the Dohuk governate was originally constructed to host 22,000 refugees, however twice that number reside there now. The rate of Syrian refugees entering Iraq has been astonishing, more than doubling since December 2012 and reaching 800 to 1,000 daily in April and May 2013, according the UNHCR. With such high entrance rates, Domiz is facing severe overcrowding, threatening strained internal relations and disease outbreaks in the camp.

These conditions are unsustainable, and highlight the urgent need for aid in the region. Next month, EPIC will visit urban centers and refugee camps in northern Iraq, including Domiz, to assess conditions on-the-ground as well as the humanitarian response to the crisis, and we’ll share what we learn with you. The trip will also be part of our preparations for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ scheduled to begin in Erbil this October, and to explore opportunities to expand the program to include Syrian refugee youth. Thanks to our supporters, these fact-finding trips and empowerment projects are possible!

As part of our call for peace, EPIC is urging the Obama administration and Congress to strengthen humanitarian assistance to the Middle East. If you have not already signed our petition at Change.org, please do so today.