10:00 am EST - 1:00 pm EST

Past Event

Improving Prospects for Durable Solutions for Iraqi Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

Friday, February 24, 2012

10:00 am - 1:00 pm EST

The Brookings Institution
Stein Room

1775 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC

Nine years since the US-led invasion of Iraq and six years since the bombing of the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, millions of Iraqis remain displaced. Today, the Middle East is undergoing a historic transformation, the United States has ended its military operations in Iraq, and both Iraq and Syria—a key refugee hosting country—are mired in political instability. With these developments as a backdrop, the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and the International Rescue Committee held an open and constructive discussion in February 2012 on the challenges and suggested areas for action to achieve durable solutions for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Thirty participants from the U.S. government, United Nations agencies, and non-governmental humanitarian and development organizations met under Chatham House rules to discuss the present context of Iraqi displacement and concrete steps that key stakeholders can take to achieve durable solutions—return, local integration, or resettlement—for Iraqi refugees and IDPs.[1]

The discussion shed light on a set of issues that remain central to the protracted nature of the Iraqi displacement crisis. Participants recognized the dynamic nature of displacement of Iraqis, the ongoing vulnerability and reduced coping mechanisms of many Iraqi IDPs and refugees as well as the efforts of the government of Iraq toward its displaced citizens and the plight of Iraqi refugees living in other countries. Participants agreed that long-lasting as well as short-term solutions to the protracted Iraqi refugee situation need to be analyzed in the context of other displacement situations in the region, which now includes refugees from Syria. As of March 2012, about 110,000 Iraqi refugees were registered with UNHCR in Syria. Some may be trying to stay in Syria while others are fleeing back to Iraq or other countries. At the same time, thousands of Syrians are also leaving Syria. The ongoing unrest in Syria at the time of the meeting made it difficult for participants to discuss durable solutions for Iraqis remaining there.

Participants discussed a number of areas where action is needed by relevant stakeholders to support durable solutions for displaced Iraqis: (1) Both the U.S. and Iraqi governments should consider needs of IDPs in their long-term development planning for Iraq; (2) International donor governments and the UN should complement their work with the central government by supporting sub-national levels of governance; (3) IDP and refugee returnees have special needs and may require extra protection; (4) International assistance benefitting displaced Iraqis should continue as long as needs related to their displacement persist, and could be increased by expanding the number of contributing donor states; and (5) The financial contributions of the government of Iraq should be increased; its co-funding of certain USAID programs for IDPs stands out as a positive development.

This report summarizes the themes and recommended areas for action that emerged from the meeting, and provides context and background to the issues raised. Housing, land, property and livelihood issues were the focus of the discussion on durable solutions for Iraqi IDPs. Organizers had envisaged using the time set aside for the topic of Iraqi refugees to discuss regularization of their legal status and permission to work. However, during the meeting, the discussion focused on the obstacles humanitarian aid workers had encountered in gaining access to Syrians as a result of the violence, the emerging Syrian refugee crisis, and the flight from Syria of some Iraqi refugees who had been targeted for attack.

This meeting builds on recent work undertaken by the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement on finding durable solutions for Iraqi IDPs and refugees. These issues were discussed by representatives from the governments of Iraq and other countries in the region, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and donor countries at a high-level conference that the Project convened in 2009 with support from the World Bank and other donors.[2] The Project also examined the government of Iraq’s efforts to address internal displacement in a study entitled From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Approaches to Internal Displacement, published in November 2011. The study, based on the central tenet of international law that states bear the primary responsibility for addressing internal displacement, examined national response to IDPs in fifteen of the twenty countries with the most conflict-induced IDPs.[3]

The roundtable also builds on the efforts by the IRC Commission on Iraqi Refugees, which was formed in 2008 to shed light on an underreported humanitarian crisis and has since traveled to the region and to resettlement sites in the United States in an effort to ensure needs of displaced Iraqis are addressed.[4] The Commission has issued three reports investigating the situation of uprooted Iraqis in the region and those resettled in the United States: Five Years Later: A Hidden Crisis (2008), Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits (2009), A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq (2010).[5] 

Download the full report here.

[1] A durable solution is achieved when refugees or internally displaced persons no longer have any specific assistance and protection needs that are linked to their displacement and can enjoy their human rights without discrimination on account of their displacement. For refugees, “a durable solution” is defined as being secured through voluntary return to the country of origin, local integration in the country of asylum, or resettlement to a third country. Applied to IDPs, the concept refers to voluntary return to the area of origin; local integration in the area of displacement; or resettlement elsewhere in the country.

[2] For a summary of the conference as well as three related papers, see: Elizabeth Ferris, ed., Resolving Iraqi Displacement: Humanitarian and Development Perspectives, 18-19 November 2009, Doha, Qatar (Washington, D.C.: Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, April 2010), available in English and Arabic at: (brookings-edu-2023.go-vip.net/reports/2009/1119_iraqi_displacement.aspx). 

[3] Elizabeth Ferris, Erin Mooney and Chareen Stark, From Responsibility to Response: Assessing National Approaches to Internal Displacement, (Washington, D.C.: Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, November 2011) (brookings-edu-2023.go-vip.net/reports/2011/11_responsibility_response_ferris.aspx).

[4] Commission members include Ambassador Morton Abramowitz, The Century Foundation; Susan Dentzer, The Newshour (PBS), Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, Drummond Pike, The Tides Foundation, George Rupp, IRC; Jean Kennedy Smith, former Ambassador to Ireland, Maureen White, former U.S. Representative to UNICEF, John Whitehead, former Deputy Secretary of State, James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank.

[5] Available at the IRC website: www.rescue.org/node/5678