Learning lessons for a resilience-based development response to the Syrian refugee crisis

As the project on “Resilience-Building in the Syrian refugee camps and their host communities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq” is coming to an end, MERI organised a round table on June 11 to discuss the preliminary results. Various key stakeholders that have been substantially involved in framing the project participated in the discussion, from the UN agencies and NGOs to KRG officials. The round table laid the foundations for the last stage of the project, the preparation of a policy report with recommendations for both the UN and the KRG to improve the livelihoods opportunities of both Syrian refugees and the host community. The recommendations are expected to form a mix of development-based projects and advocacy for policy changes.

The project, commissioned and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq, aimed to evaluate the feasibility of transforming the refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region and neighbouring towns into resilient communities. This implied putting forward strategies that empower people’s own ability to achieve their livelihood expectations and reduce their dependence on external aid. The project was implemented by MERI Fellows Roger Guiu and Lahib Higel, with technical leadership provided by Dr Naresh Singh, an international expert on development and poverty alleviation.

The research team presented in the round table the findings from the previous research phases: (i) a desk review of the livelihoods baseline for in-camp refugees and their host community; (ii) the results of a household survey to complete our understanding of the livelihoods of both populations; and (iii) the conclusions from focus group discussions and key informant interviews over the vulnerability context in camps, usual coping strategies and preferences over future resilient settings. Following this, the second part of the round table entered into a discussion about feasible options to promote a resilience-based development response to the Syrian refugee crisis —and, differences aside, extensible as a model for Iraq in order to address the current displacement crisis.

Overall, the round table produced many critical insights. These range from the need to advocate for institutional change instead of keeping at micro level interventions, to a discussion about shared responsibilities among the various stakeholders —resilience-building does not mean that all the responsibility has to be gradually left in the hands of the local authorities, which do not have the necessary capacity, but the international support has to be continuous and more targeted to capacity-building for Kurdistan’s institutions. In addition, limits about the room for integrating the displaced communities into an (overall) non-resilient system were also debated.

These topics of discussions will feed into specific recommendations included in the report. Above all, though, they feed a broader debate on forced human displacement, in which the postulates of the international community gradually evolve towards a more development and integration oriented approach —opposed to KRG’s preference to move displaced families in fenced camps, a solution that, above all, reinforces a dependency syndrome.

Photo credit: RISE Foundation

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About MERI:  The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.  Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.

MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).

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