Ebb and flow of forced displacement in Iraq

News Stories, 30 June 2014

© UNHCR/E.Colt
One of the families that found shelter in a school in the city of Erbil at the weekend.

ERBIL, Iraq, June 30 (UNHCR) Over the weekend, classrooms at the Hekma primary and secondary school in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil looked more like packed dormitories. Mattresses lined the walls and personal belongings were neatly arrayed beside them.

Some 700 displaced Iraqis had made Hekma their temporary home. UNHCR and other aid agencies provided emergency support, and the local community in Erbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, also stepped up to help.

During the pre-dawn hours of last Friday, UNHCR and dozens of volunteers worked in tandem to get 2,500 mattresses and quilts and 500 boxes of hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes to this latest wave of Iraqi internally displaced people (IDPs). They had fled the village of Qaraqosh outside Iraq's second largest city of Mosul late Wednesday. They said fighting had started nearby between Kurdish peshmerga forces and those allied with anti-government fighters.

A total 550 mattresses and quilts were sent to the Hekma school, while an estimated 4,000 other IDP's were sheltering in churches, other schools, with families, and in community centres. Children as young as 10 helped offload trucks, then carried the emergency goods into the school, where they were distributed to families.

Among them were Behnam, his wife Nadia, and their five children, who had fled their home in Qaraqosh the night before. "It's too hot here," complained Nadia as she wiped the brow of her two-year-old daughter Marianna. "Everybody is sharing bathrooms, and there are no showers."

It is now possible to sleep, however, with mattresses and quilts for all. Hot food in the form of chicken, rice and vegetables was supplied Friday morning by another aid agency. "We want to go back," said Behnam, "Even though electricity and water service is sporadic."

Others had doubts about returning, not only due to safety concerns, but because their future looked so discouraging. Police officer Bassam said he hadn't received his salary in more than a month. "No one expected this," he said. "With two boys and a girl, what do I do now?"

It's a question that an increasing number of IDPs are asking. Since January, their number has surpassed 1 million across Iraq. There was an initial outflow of a half million from central Iraq's Anbar governorate, and in the past two weeks, another half million from Ninewa and other nearby governorates in the north following fighting there.

For some, this was not the first time they had fled fighting. One mother said she was from Baghdad, but had moved to Qaraqosh after feeling unsafe in her home in the Iraqi capital. UNHCR protection staff say that, increasingly, Iraqis have fled multiple times.

"It's a phenomenon we are sadly seeing more of today, and we are working to learn more about how extensive it is," said UNHCR's Gemma Woods. "There are families that fled fighting in central Iraq almost a decade ago, who settled elsewhere, and are now finding they have to flee to safety yet again."

For now, things are looking better for the thousands who departed Qaraqosh last week. On Sunday morning, six buses pulled up in front of the Hekma school to take the IDPs home. Town leaders had told the IDPs that it was safe to return to Qaraqosh; that fighting had ended and their homes were intact. By Sunday afternoon almost all from the town had gone home.

Meanwhile, UNHCR was hearing reports of another major displacement, this one from Tikrit, midway between Mosul and Baghdad, where the Iraqi military and opposition groups have been fighting for two weeks.

By Ned Colt in Erbil, Iraq




UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraq: The Plight of the YazidisPlay video

Iraq: The Plight of the Yazidis

Tens of thousands of people, including ethnic Yazidis originating from the Sinjar area, have been forced to find shelter in schools and unfinished structures across northern Iraq since fleeing their homes. The UN refugee agency has been trying to help, opening camps to provide better shelter.
Iraq: Preparing for Winter in DohukPlay video

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in Dohuk

Efforts are under way in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries to prepare refugees and the internally displaced for winter. But UNHCR remains deeply concerned that a $58.45 million funding shortfall could leave as many as a million people out in the cold.
Iraq: The Generous GiverPlay video

Iraq: The Generous Giver

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, with nearly half seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. As weary families began pouring into Dohuk, one local businessman built them a small camp equipped with tents, water, sanitation and electricity.