Over the past decades, the Middle East region has been rocked by political instability, violence and economic insecurity. Iraq and its people have faced continual violence and instability—now under the threat of IS, the Islamic State. Currently, Iraq has thousands of internally displaced people, with numbers increasing each day. Civil war in Syria has also forced tens of thousands of Syrians to also seek shelter in Iraq, including Iraqi refugees who themselves had originally fled to Syria, as a result of the US-led invasion in 2003.
As a result of the assault of these drastically increased numbers of refugees and IDPs, refugee and IDP camps have expanded and created further sites in Iraq. The majority of these camps for victims of the IS crisis are located in Iraqi Kurdistan (northern Iraq, also known as south Kurdistan, which spans into Turkey, Iran and Syria).
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the effective governing body of Iraqi Kurdistan, has responded to the influx of Syrian refugees by expanding their camp services. However, due in part to the continued instability in the region, along with inadequate supplies and resources, refugees are still lacking many basic services. One of the most critical issues in the camps is overcrowding; there are far too many refugees for the number of available food, water and cover. Additionally, refugee camps are straining existing towns and nearby communities, which are becoming overburdened with their drain of supplies and lack of social services.
Unemployment of IDPs & Refugees
Women, children and persons lacking identification documents are especially vulnerable to unemployment. This lack of funds creates particular issues for the women, who in Kurdistan are leaving the camps each day to participate in prostitution to raise money for their families. Persons with proper identification can receive education and health care. Those without are lacking these resources as well.
Many refugees and IDP-s—Syrian and Iraqi—have fled to urban areas throughout the countries and formed small colonies in abandoned or used buildings, such as churches, schools, parks and other public areas.
Internally Displaced Persons
Iraq has experienced displacement since the 1970s. The 2006-2008 Sectarian conflict pushed 1.1 illion people to leave their homes. As of December 2013, 1.2 million were forced to leave their homes after increased fighting in the West. The crisis of 2014 has pushed an innumerable number of people from Mosul, Anbar and many other areas.
- Anbar IDPs numbered more than 500,000 after intense fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi (April 2014)
- Mosul IDPs numbered more than 500,000 people after IS took control (IOM, 11 June 2014)..
Dohuk, Erbil, Baghdad, Salahudin, Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Kerbala, Babil, Najaf, Diyala and Qadissiya are are currently hosting IDPs.
Domiz Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan
The Domiz Camp located near Dohuk city, in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, was founded in April 2012 to host the huge influx of Syrian Kurds fleeing the war in their country. The camp is only 60 km away from the Syrian border; officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government have welcomed Syrian Kurds to the Domiz camp; Kurds are minorities in both Syrian and Iraq.
The estimated total amount of refugees currently living in the Kurdish region of Iraq by the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) is approximately 96,484 people. The approximate total number of refugees living in the Domiz Camp is 35,000.
At the beginning of the refugee influx in 2012, Iraqi officials had enough resources to allow access to water, electricity, basic health care and education for children. International aid organizations and supporters of the Domiz camp include: the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations, the International Medical Corps, and many others.
However, due to recent violence, access to these basic resources have dwindled, due to instability. Additionally, due to the continued influx of arriving refugees, the camp is suffering from overcrowding, disease, a lack of sanitation and access to adequate amounts of clean water. Families live in tents set up just off the muddy tracks that serve as streets. The quality of life in Domiz has eroded with the invasion of ISIS; refugees, living in temporary shelters are more vulnerable to violence and attack.
Arbat Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan
Arbat is a temporary refugee camp also located in the Kurdish Iraq, in the northeastern region of Sulaymaniyah, not far from the Iraqi borders along Syrian and Turkey. Arbat camp was established on August 25, 2013, hosting primarily Syrian refugees from near Qamishli.
According to a June 2014 UNHCR report, the population of the Arbat camp is 3,455; the capacity that the camp will allow is estimated at 5,000 people. As this is a relatively new camp, overcrowding has not yet become a pressing issue.
The majority of refugees are adult males, ages 18-59, followed by children age four or younger. The camp has only 53% school enrollment for children, but the UNHCR does note that 100% of individuals are registered and have access to adequate shelter, water and food (2100 kcals per day). All registered refugee families upon arrival are provided with Core Relief Item packs, including basic domestic items and “winterization” and “summer” kits to stay cool and warm depending on weather conditions.
Khazair Displacement IDP Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan
The Khazair refugee camp is located near Erbil, Iraq. The Khazair camp recently became home for approximately 1500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing ISIS violence in Iraq’s second largest city Mosul, and the surrounding region.
The majority of Khazair IDPs are Arab Iraqis, many of which are families with young children. The camp has limited resources (it is in need of food, clean water, items to create shelter) and is susceptible to attack by nearby rebels. Red Crescent has been able to provide some resources, but not enough for all IDPs.
Additionally, current summer temperatures that peak at 115 degrees Fahrenheit threaten the weakest residents: infants and the elderly.
Darashakran Refugee Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan
The Darashakran Refugee Camp is located in Khabat, Erbil. The size of Darashakran is enormous compared to most: 1,150,000 m2. It opened on September 29, 2013. The majority of the refugees are Syrians from the Qamishli region, who have been relocated from other camps that include: Bekhma, Baharka, Kawrgosk.
According to a UNHCR June 2014 report, the estimated population of Darashakran camp is 7130 people, but it is planned to host up to 20,000 people, if not more.
Of the current population, the majority of individuals are adults, ages 18-59, followed by children between the ages of 5 and 11 years of age. Interestingly, the majority of both children and adult refugees are women.
According to the UNHCR, 100% of refugees are registered and have access to adequate nutrition (2100 kcals per day), health care (1 permanent center), shelter, and water. The camp has not met its goal in terms of education: 80% of children are enrolled in school.
Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan
The Kawergosk refugee camp is also located in Khabat, south of Erbil. The camp opened on August 15, 2013, and is small, with a size of only 419 m2. The population of this camp is dramatically increasing; it currently hosts 13,646 refugees, already beyond recommended capacity. The majority of camp residents are adults, aged 18-59, and male.
Kawergosk camp opened in order to house the huge influx of Syrian refugees who has been straddling the boarder at Peshkharbour and Saheka. Officials are trying to send refugees to other camps that have more space and are less crowded.
According to a June 2014 UNHCR report, 100% of refugees at Kawergosk are registered, do receive adequate nutrition, have access to one local health center, have shelter, water and have received Core Relief Items (CRI) kits. However, only 48% of children are enrolled in school in Kawergosk.
Bashabsheh and Zaatari Refugee Camps, Jordan
Bashabsheh was a temporary transit camp near Ramtha, Jordan, created to manage the large influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their native country. This camp was the first stop of many Syrians once they crossed the Jordanian border, and before they were transferred to more appropriate and permanent camp. It was a makeshift facility, composed of apartment buildings.
The Bashabsheh camp closed on Wednesday, August 15, 2014. The UNHCR in Jordan noted that refugees will now be sent to other camps better able to cope with the growing numbers of refugees entering Jordan, which has reached up to 1500 people per day.
The majority of newly arrived refugees will be sent to Zaatari camp, near the town of Mafraq, a refugee “town” of more than 2000 tents. Zaatari is not a temporary transit center, but rather a permanent refugee camp with better facilities, run by the Jordanian government. This signifies a national acknowledgement that the Syrian conflict may last for months or years to come, and that these Syrian refugees may become permanent residents of the camps.
Zaatari camp houses a total of 80,000 people “of concern” according to the UNHCR’s website. 50.8% of the refugees are women, 49.2% are men. The majority of refugees are adults, ages 18-59, followed by children ages 5-11. Most refugees in Zaatari are from Da’ara Governorate in Syria. Zaatari officially opened on July 28, 2012, although it has grown exponentially since May 2013 as the fighting in Syrian continued and intensified. The camp is run jointly by the Jordanian government and the UNHCR.
Refugees and IDPs
The number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) continues to grow, with no foreseeable end or solution in sight. Thousands of refugees who initially sought asylum and peace in Syria when Iraq was invaded in 2003, are returning to Iraq in order to escape both Syrians ongoing civil war and ISIS. It is now estimated that approximately 2.8 million people in Iraq are either refugees or IDPs. Both refugees and IDPs are living in danger, in temporary housing, with limited access to funds, food, water, health services and education. The temporary shelters provided by the Government of Iraq, the United Nations and more international organizations, are usually no more than tents or plastics. These materials are not resistant to severe weather or violent attack. The elderly, children, and women are particularly vulnerable to attack and malnutrition. Additionally, young families with new babies are undocumented and exist in a limbo between Syria and Iraq, not possessing official documentation or citizenship in either country.
Many of the Syrians fleeing to Iraq to escape the ongoing violence of the Syrian civil war are finding shelter in camps located in Domiz and Dohuk regions of Iraqi Kurdistan, but overcrowding, limited resources and violence limits their ability to access basic services and resources. While the KRG has done an admirable job attempting to assist the refugees arriving in the region, the social services in these regions are simply too stained to adequately support the large numbers of Syrians relocating to Iraq; as of July 2013, more than 150,000 Syrians had registers as refugees in various Iraqi camps. Despite multiple expansions, the camps mentioned previously remain overcrowded and understaffed, and the continued flow of refugees is not quelled. A major issue is registration—there are too many refugees and not enough staff members to accurately register and report the number of men, women, and children living in the camps, which makes it even more difficult to manage and apply the number of supplies needed.
Glossary of Terms
Refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.[/one_third]
Kurdistan refers to the greater region of northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, northeastern Syria and eastern Turkey, inhabited by Kurdish people. Iraqi Kurdistan refers to the northern region of Iraq, where Kurdish language, culture and people have been based for thousands of years. Iraqi Kurdistan is compromised of the capital of Erbil, Dohuk, Kirkuk and Sulaiymaniah, Iraqi Kurdistan is considered to be an autonomous state of the Iraqi Government, and governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. In June 2014, the Kurdish President announced his plans of complete independence from the Iraqi government, with the call to hold an official independence referendum “within several months.” Iraqi Kurdistan was known as a calm area amidst the storm of Iraq’s political chaos, exhibiting economic stability to its 6 million Kurdish residents since the American Invasion of 2003.
Yazidis are Kurdish ethnoreligious group, who primarily live in the Nineveh province of northern Iraq. As ISIS continues its offensive attacks in Iraq, Yazidis are fleeing hometowns to seek asylum in Kurdistan. Many women and children captured by ISIS have been taken to the ISIS-occupied city of Mosul, where they are being called to Islam. It was the intensity of the humanitarian criss of the Yazidis, combined with the ISIS assault against Iraq’s Kurdish region, that prompted President Barack Obama of the United States to order targeted airstrikes to destroy ISIS positions.
Internally Displaced Person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders. They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the current legal definition of a refugee. Over 400,000 people have fled from their homes since the ISIS insurgence in June. Half of those who have fled have arrived in the Dohuk province, where refugees are rushing to meet the sudden rise in need.