A Tragedy of Increasing Proportions: Internal Displacement in Iraq

Walter Kälin
Walter Kälin Former Brookings Expert

June 20, 2007

Almost two million Iraqis have been displaced within the borders of their own country, more than 700,000 of them in the past fourteen months. Reports indicate that internal displacement is continuing and that, unless peace and stability are restored soon, the number of IDPs will increase.

Iraqis are leaving their homes because of violence. According to interviews carried out by the International Organization for Migration, most IDPs said they fled their homes because of sectarian violence, generalised violence and military operations. Minority communities have been particularly at risk and are reported to have left their communities in substantial numbers. While many have sought safety in neighbouring countries—as is their right under international law—many are unwilling or unable to leave their country. As a recent study by the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement indicates, there are different patterns of displacement. In addition to people fleeing to areas where they feel safer, others remain at home but sleep in different places at night (night-time displacement), or do not go to work or school (pre-displacement) or become displaced more than once (repeat displacement).[1] Although systematic data are lacking, it is likely that those who are internally displaced are more vulnerable than refugees for the simple reason that IDPs are closer to the conflict which led to their displacement.

While governments hosting Iraqi refugees are certainly in need of support, the IDPs inside Iraq – though perhaps less ‘visible’ to those outside the country than the refugees in neighbouring countries—have clear needs which must be addressed. However, responding to IDPs is more difficult than for refugees where at least operational agencies have access and donors are able to monitor implementation of programmes.

[1] Ashraf al-Khalidi and Victor Tanner, ‘Sectarian Violence: Radical Groups Drive Internal Displacement in Iraq’