Resolving Iraqi Displacement: Humanitarian and Development Perspectives

April 1, 2010

Decades of insecurity and violence have led to the displacement of millions of Iraqi men,
women and children. About half remain within the borders of Iraq as internally displaced
persons (IDPs), while the other half live in countries throughout the region. Finding durable
solutions for internally and externally displaced Iraqis requires the support of a wide range of actors to advance national reconciliation, livelihoods, public services, rule of law, and economic recovery.

The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, with support from the World Bank and other donors, initiated a process in mid-2009 to consider ways in which durable solutions for displaced Iraqis can be found. This process sought to identify actions which can be taken to prevent Iraqi displacement from becoming a protracted situation with long-term negative consequences for the displaced, for displacement-affected communities and for the region as a whole. This approach represents a departure from other efforts that have focused on meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of the displaced.

The first step in this process was conducting a study which examined current thinking of major stakeholders about possible long-term solutions for internally and externally displaced Iraqis. Based on interviews with governmental actors, international organizations, and other experts, the study identified challenges and opportunities as a basis for policy recommendations that could lead to solutions.

The study served as a background document for a two-day conference convened in Doha, Qatar from November 18-19, 2009 with representatives from the governments of Iraq and other countries in the region, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and donor countries. The main objectives of the conference were to:

  • Explore possibilities to find durable solutions for the displaced in the next few years;
  • Increase awareness of the relationship between resolving displacement and ensuring longterm stability in the region, including through the engagement of development and other actors beyond emergency responders;
  • Affirm the leadership role of the Iraqi government in finding durable solutions for the displaced and consider ways in which the international community can further support the government.

The conference was intended to provide a forum for stakeholders from different organizations and governments to brainstorm about the issue. In order to facilitate frank and open discussion, the meeting was held under Chatham House rules in which attributions would not be made to individual participants. The conference was not as inclusive as desired, due to a late decision of several key Iraqi policy-makers not to participate and the lack of Syrian and Iranian participants. Political discussions in Iraq over the upcoming national elections created a particular dynamic during the meeting. Indeed, in the midst of the Doha conference, the election law was vetoed by Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi over the issue of parliamentary representation of Iraqis living outside the country. Despite affirmations from participants that refugee and IDP issues should not be politicized, politics and solutions for the displaced are closely related.

The background research study highlighted six issues for consideration by participants:

  • Iraqi displacement is a chronic and complex phenomenon.
  • There is a need for updated information on the scale and nature of Iraqi displacement.
  • There are points of consensus on concrete steps which can be taken to find durable solutions for the displaced.
  • Coordination mechanisms should be strengthened.
  • Political engagement is needed to bring about durable solutions.
  • A comprehensive regional approach is needed.

These and other issues were considered in presentations and roundtable discussions with representatives from Iraq, neighboring countries, international organizations, and donor governments. Participants broke into small groups to discuss issues such as how displacement can be incorporated into development planning and the particular concerns of the governments of Iraq and host countries. The final plenary session focused on identifying the common themes emerging from the conference and the identification of next steps. While the organizers had hoped that the conference would also address the possibility of a comprehensive regional approach to resolving displacement, it became clear that these discussions need to be postponed until a later time. Although this was not a decision- making meeting and consensus on recommendations was not sought, certain common themes emerged in the discussions which may serve as a basis for action by concerned stakeholders.