Internal Displacement in Iraq: The Process of Working toward Durable Solutions


Context for Research: In total, according to government figures, close to 2.6 million people are internally displaced in Iraq, of an overall population of 28 million.[1] In addition there are approximately two million Iraqi refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Jordan and Syria, since 2003.

With increased levels of security in Iraq in 2008-9, displaced persons have begun to make decisions about their future: whether to return to their place of origin, locally integrate or resettle in a third location. While the number of displaced Iraqis making settlement decisions remains low, it is expected to increase if current trends in security improvements continue. The time is therefore ripe to assess how the Government of Iraq (GoI), with the support of international and national actors, can advance the process of achieving durable solutions to displacement.

The IASC Framework for Durable Solutions: The Framework was conceived as an analytical response to humanitarian situations characterized by mass uprooting of citizens: the question of when internally displaced persons (IDPs) are no longer considered vulnerable due to their displacement. This question impacts choices on targeting assistance and advocacy, and planning interventions that will most effectively bring about durable solutions.

The Framework aims to answer this question from a rights-based perspective. It enumerates 14 criteria that should be satisfied in order to ensure that the rights of IDPs are upheld in facilitating durable solutions. The goal of providing assistance to IDPs, according to the Framework, is to enable IDPs to attain parity with the non-IDP population, both in terms of rights and socio-economic conditions. As such, they no longer experience vulnerabilities related to their displacement. Furthermore, the Framework proposes the ideal processes through which this goal is achieved by IDPs.

Research Questions: The Framework analysis focused on the following research questions:

  • As an analytical tool, how can the Framework be applied in a country specific context?
  • How does applying the Framework to the Iraqi context help to identify priorities in the process of advancing durable solutions to displacement?

The research aimed to identify which Framework criteria are most relevant to the Iraqi context – thus the areas in which Iraqi IDPs are vulnerable due to their displacement. Relevance is defined twofold; first as those factors that IDPs cite as being the most significant barriers in their ability to make and enact a voluntary settlement decision. Second, it is defined as those factors for which available data indicates that IDPs experience vulnerabilities linked to their displacement.

Key Findings: In applying the Framework to the Iraqi context by using available data, the following criteria emerged as most relevant in terms of the priority concerns of IDPs that impede achievement of durable solutions:

  • Harassment, as it relates to a sense of security
  • Protection, as it relates to rule of law and access to police and courts
  • Property, as it relates to the ability of IDPs to reclaim assets and access shelter
  • Standard of living, as it relates to the ability of IDPs to access public services, assistance and employment opportunities.

Secondary to these four priority concerns, analysis of Iraq data suggests that IDP-specific vulnerabilities also exist across a broader range of Framework criteria. For example, within the ‘standard of living’ criterion, comparison between IDPs and non-IDPs indicates that displacement status is not necessarily correlated with greater vulnerability. Assessment is necessary to identify the most vulnerable within both IDP and non-IDP cohorts and target assistance on a needs basis to prevent tensions arising in the host community. Data suggest that shelter and education are areas where IDPs experience particular difficulties linked to their displacement status. Data also suggests gaps in regards to political participation, access to property, documentation, lack of coercion, and the role of government.

Recommendations: In order to address the findings identified in this report, below are highlighted some key recommendations for involved actors:

  • GoI: Establish and publicize a streamlined property restitution mechanism; tailor national poverty reduction strategy to address IDP vulnerabilities; prioritize training and integration of the Iraqi Security Force (ISF); strengthen the judicial system.
  • International and national actors: Monitor the settlement decisions of IDPs; build capacity of GoI to deliver services; support development of an active civil society; provide community assistance to increase community absorptive capacity.
  • Donors: Maintain commitment to continue funding through the transition to longer term development planning; maintain commitment to support efforts focused on resolving displacement through durable solutions.

Conclusion: Further to the gaps identified above, the analysis suggests that a purely relative perspective does not capture the fact that there may be both a low level of vulnerability amongst certain sections of the IDP population, and a high level of vulnerability amongst certain sections of the non-IDP population. Therefore while IDP status can and should be taken as an indication of vulnerability, the process of advancing durable solutions requires a community-based approach to target assistance in a way that best supports reconciliation. This approach requires rigorous analysis of the status of both IDPs and non-IDPs in terms of each of the Framework criteria, using reliable and robust data. The methodology developed through this research proposes metrics for each criterion, thus making them measurable.

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[1] (IOM Iraq, 2008)