Impact of Displaced People on Kurdistan Region


Project Description

Full Title: Impact of Displaced People on Kurdistan Region
Lead Fellows: Roger Guiu, Economics-Energy-Environment Program, and Sam Morris, International Politics & National Security Program
Project in Brief: The project seeks to evaluate the economic, social and security impacts of the arrival of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Kurdistan Region, including the suggestion of mitigation policies that could be implemented by the authorities.
Term: 2014 – 2015



A significant influx of Syrian refugees and IDPs in Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has experienced several waves of refugees during the last two years due to military conflict in the neighbouring territory. In the first of them, a surge in violence in Syria’s civil war during 2013, especially in the zones populated by Kurds, led to the displacement of 250,000 Syrians seeking shelter inside the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) boundaries. In parallel, the on-going conflict in Iraq’s Anbar and Niniwa provinces in early 2014 also caused the arrival of 180,000 Iraqis. This was aggravated by the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, by Islamic extremists, which increased the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) up to 500,000. More than half of the displaced people established in the Duhok province, followed by Erbil. There is also a presence of displaced people in Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk.

These events were characterised by a policy of “open borders” by the KRG. On humanitarian grounds, these waves of displaced people were allowed to enter the Kurdistan region -although some security checks were in place that prevented, for instance, individual male adults to enter. Both Syrian refugees, essentially of Kurdish origin, and IDPs were granted the right to stay in the KRI and the freedom to find a work. In the case of Syrian refugees, government, NGOs and the international community worked jointly to establish camps with the necessary facilities to shelter the families. They were free to decide whether to remain in the camps instead of living inside the cities and towns. Conversely, the arrival of IDPs from the Mosul area has been less effectively managed due to a combination of lack of an integrated strategy, severe restrictions on public budget, and issues with land availability for the camps. As a consequence, all facilities and services provided are still temporary or inexistent.

The arrival of displaced people triggered economic and security impacts

Finally, in early August 2014, Arabs and Christian and Yazidi Kurds living in the western part of Iraqi Kurdistan have fled their towns after the advance of the Islamic State (IS) militants. It is estimated that around 200,000 people have been displaced and sought refuge within KRI. However, this latest event also seemed to represent a turning point on KRG’s refugee policy. The “open borders” policy is starting to be substituted by a slightly more restrictive approach. It is increasingly reported that groups of IDPs from other sides of Northern Iraq are not being allowed to enter urban areas within KRI. This is a reflection of the concerns by both Kurdish government and society on the capacity to safely absorb the perceived impacts of the arrival of refugees and IDPs. In practical terms, the population within KRI has actually increased more than a 15% in just a year at the same time that the area controlled by the KRG has also expanded by over 40%.

This brings into question a mix of political and security implications, along with a deterioration of the economic situation in the region, attributed to displaced people. The combination of displaced people from different origins and mixed religious sects raises concerns within the government on the region’s stability and protection from attacks. It also brings the risk of outbursts of violence within the territory due to disputes. An increase in anti-Arab sentiment can be identified as increasing numbers of IDP’s flood towards Kurdistan. On economic grounds, it is conventionally claimed that the influx of refugees are the cause for food and housing price spikes, energy shortages, lack of employment, a plunge in wages in the private sector and an increased perception of petty delinquency, while the positive effects, such as resurgence of private activities, are usually ignored.

Towards a long-term mitigation policy

On overall, this highlights the following issues for a satisfactory management of the displaced people crisis:

  • Lack of a strategic planning within the KRG with a long-term vision of the issue;
  • Lack of evidence on the role of refugees in the current economic deterioration as well as on the risk they pose to national security; and
  • Need for alternatives in case of risk of a collapse of refugee-related operations due to a heavily restricted budget.

The Project

The Middle East Research Institute (MERI) is maintaining contacts with stakeholders involved in the refugees crisis with the aim to shed some light on the issues raised above and be able to provide policy recommendations for a more effective management of the events. In particular, the project will develop along two phases:

  • On an initial phase, the project aims to evaluate the social, economic and security impacts, both qualitatively and quantitatively (where appropriate). The project team will gather the necessary data and evidence from field works as well as rely on available regional data series.
  • On a second phase, the project will assess the current policies in place that have been applied to mitigate these impacts and will provide additional policy recommendations in those areas where it is deemed to be room for improvement.

Special emphasis will be given to provide quantitative evidence of the magnitude of the associated social and economic impacts as these are usually not considered in similar studies and hence hinders the ability to provide policy recommendations. The conventional perception of negative economic impacts has been traditionally contested by comprehensive evaluations by the academic community and humanitarian practitioners. This plays an important role as, in this particular case, these impacts interact with underlying pressure on prices and wages inherent to the current economic boom in the region and the cause-effect relations are not directly clear.

Project Partners

Collaborating institutions UNDP’s Crisis Prevention and Recovery Programme 

Further Information

UNHCR in Iraq: country operations profile
OCHA’s maps and situation reports on Iraq
REACH’s maps and situation reports on Iraq
UN Habitat’s Urban Humanitarian Response Portal
A World Bank methodology for assessing the impacts and costs of forced displacement

For more information please contact Mr Roger Guiu from our Economics, Energy and Environment program: