What is the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration doing to assist displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees living in Iraq?

The U.S. government's strategy for providing support to displaced Iraqis is three-fold: to help the Government of Iraq (GOI) build a stable Iraq that has the capacity to respond to emergent crises and to reintegrate returning Iraqis successfully; to sustain humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis who are unable or choose not to return to their homes; and to maintain U.S. resettlement as an opportunity for the most vulnerable Iraqis who are unable to return home.

Iraqi refugees in the Middle East region currently reside mainly in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, with smaller populations in Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran. Through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the U.S. government supports Iraqi refugee assistance programs in these countries, as well as programs for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and returnees inside Iraq, through both international organizations (IOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The U.S. government’s primary IO partner in this endeavor is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Our assistance programs are designed to provide protection, basic humanitarian assistance, education, and livelihoods programs inside Iraq.

There are approximately 230,000 Iraqi refugees currently registered with UNHCR in neighboring countries; however, there is no definitive number of Iraqi refugees because they are often not registered and are dispersed in urban centers. Since the advance the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in January 2014, the humanitarian situation has remained fluid, with nearly 3.4 million Iraqis displaced across 3,800 locations, following ISIL’s capture of much of Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah ad-Din provinces, as well as swaths of Kirkuk and Diyala provinces. Nearly 797,000 IDPs who were displaced since 2014 have returned home as of August 2, 2016, following reestablishment of Iraqi government control over their home communities. Iraq also hosts approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom are living in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR).

The United States also provides resettlement for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, for whom return to Iraq is not a viable option due to credible fear of persecution and threats. Between February 2007, when the newest Iraqi refugee resettlement programs began, and August 2016, over 132,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States for resettlement. In FY 2015, more than 12,600 Iraqis were admitted to the United States and Iraqi admissions numbers are expected to reach even higher levels in FY 2017. UNHCR is the lead agency managing the third country resettlement process, and has referred Iraqi refugees to more than a dozen countries that provide permanent resettlement opportunities. See Iraqi Refugee Resettlement for more information.

What are the major challenges for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region?

Protection remains a key concern. In the last year, IOs and NGOs have reported that IDPs’ identification documents were confiscated and their freedom of movement (especially when seeking refuge in a safer province) was impeded. IDPs were coerced into returning to their home provinces, and some armed groups engaged in demographic engineering to assert mono-ethnic control over territory by denying some IDPs the ability to return home. Only about 12 percent of IDPs live in formal camps, although that number is increasing as IDPs exhaust their personal savings. Another 70 percent live in private accommodations of some sort, while the balance live in substandard shelter, such as unfinished buildings. An estimated 28 percent of IDPs reside in the three provinces that constitute the IKR, while central Iraq hosts 67 percent and southern Iraq hosts only four percent. Out of a total population of 33 million, the UN estimates that 10 million Iraqis across the country are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including an estimated three million living in ISIL-held territory. These figures are in addition to the pre-2014 IDP population in Iraq of approximately one million, most of whom are assumed to have been displaced again and counted in the above figure.

The Government of Iraq is working with the UN and the international community to develop programs and structures to facilitate safe and voluntary returns for IDPs. International partners play an important role in building the government’s capacity to support voluntary returns and local integration while also providing direct assistance to refugees, IDPs, and returnees. Priorities include improving access to shelter, employment, and services in areas where Iraqis are returning home, in addition to de-mining and clearance of unexploded ordnance in areas liberated from ISIL.

Iraqi refugees face many of the same problems as internally displaced Iraqis. The most pressing problem is ensuring that refugees receive adequate assistance until they can return to Iraq, are locally integrated, or are resettled to a third country. Obtaining the right to work and the regularization of their status in host countries are also issues of significant concern. Since the majority of Iraqis are prohibited from working in their country of displacement, they rely on host country services or international humanitarian assistance programs for survival. Host countries – particularly Jordan – have generously expanded the access of Iraqi refugees to basic health and education services, but the growing destitution of Iraqis, coupled with a large Syrian refugee influx to neighboring countries, have increased the strain on those nations. International organizations have developed new service delivery models for refugees, including Iraqis, who are not living in camps but are scattered in urban areas. PRM advocates for equal treatment under the law and by humanitarian agencies for all refugee populations.

How has the Syrian conflict affected displaced Iraqis?

Violence in Syria has affected Iraqi refugees living there as well as in other countries in the region. In 2016, UNHCR estimated there were approximately 30,000 Iraqi refugees living in Syria, including 7,000-8,000 who were displaced to Syria in 2016 as a result of the conflict with ISIL. Iraqi refugees in Syria are affected by the ongoing violence and the resulting surge in criminal activity, such as killings, kidnappings, robberies, threats, and harassment. The conflict in Syria has also affected refugees’ movements and access to public services. Access to Iraqi refugees by humanitarian organizations continues to be limited by security concerns and active conflict.

How is the Government of Iraq addressing the needs of its displaced population?

The Government of Iraq provides assistance to IDPs and returnees primarily through the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM). MoDM distributes cash grants to IDP families and helps them to register for services in their governorates of displacement. It also provides assistance to newly displaced IDPs where it has access to them, and it coordinates with international organizations on the response effort.

How much U.S. government funding has gone to support assistance projects both inside and outside of Iraq?

Since Fiscal Year 2014, the U.S. government has provided nearly $915 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees, internally displaced people, and conflict-affected Iraqis. This assistance was contributed to UNHCR and other international organizations, as well as NGOs. U.S. humanitarian assistance includes support for shelter and non-food items, food, protection, education, livelihoods, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and health care, among other types of aid. In Fiscal Year 2015, PRM provided nearly $228 million in humanitarian assistance for Iraqis displaced in Iraq and across the region.

In which countries does the Department of State base Refugee Coordinators in the region? Which countries do they cover?

The Bureau supports nine Refugee Coordinators in the region to monitor PRM-allocated assistance and U.S. refugee admissions programs and to provide technical assistance to our partners and host governments in responding to the humanitarian needs of displaced populations. In Iraq, the Bureau supports a Senior Refugee Coordinator in Baghdad who is responsible for directing and coordinating U.S. government efforts to assist Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims. The Senior Coordinator is supported in Baghdad by an Admissions Refugee Coordinator covering the resettlement program. The Senior Coordinator is also supported in Erbil by a Refugee Coordinator covering Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs in the IKR. In Jordan, a Senior Refugee Coordinator, and two Refugee Coordinators monitor assistance and resettlement services in Jordan, Egypt, and Syria for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In Turkey, three Refugee Coordinators monitor assistance and resettlement services for Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugees. PRM also supports one Refugee Coordinator in Beirut, Lebanon who oversees programs supporting Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations.

Which international organization (IO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners are active in your region?

International Organizations:

Non-Governmental Organizations:

  • Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)
  • CARE
  • Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC)
  • Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
  • Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)
  • Danish Refugee Council
  • GOAL
  • Heartland Alliance
  • International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)
  • International Medical Corps (IMC)
  • International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • International Relief and Development (IRD)
  • Mercy Corps
  • Near East Foundation (NEF)
  • Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
  • Première Urgence Internationale (PUI)
  • Save the Children (SC)
  • World Relief
  • World Vision
  • And many more.