Humanitarian Crisis in KurdistanSince the start of the unrest in Syria and the advance of ISIS through Iraq, nearly two million Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis have flooded into the Kurdistan Region. Nearly half of them come from religious and ethnic minority groups, including Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Shabaks, and others.
The humanitarian crisis in Kurdistan remains extremely dire and continues to worsen by the day.
Since August 2014, the UN has designated the humanitarian crisis in Iraq a ‘Level 3 Emergency’, its most severe designation. The magnitude of the short-term human suffering and the negative long-term effects on individuals and societies alike cannot be understated.
The UN is experiencing a chronic shortfall in funding for Iraq’s humanitarian response in 2015. As of September 22, the UN had received a mere 50.2% of its $704 million requirement, a number revised down from $1.123 billion in June 2015.
As a result, essential aid programs are experiencing catastrophic funding shortages. Since August 2014, food benefits to the most vulnerable families have dropped from $31 to $19, with many families having their food aid cut entirely – of the 250,000 registered Syrians, only 44,292 received any food aid at all in August 2015 .
In July, the UN suspended 184 front line health facilities in Iraq, or 80% of all such facilities. In August and September, refugee and IDP populations throughout Iraq experienced a measles and cholera outbreaks.
UN funding for new programs to build new shelters and provide upgrades to existing shelters, both in camps and off, are no longer available . Only 12% of Syrian refugees are receiving housing assistance and shelter upgrades.
These funding shortages not only cause suffering, malnutrition, and disease in the short term, but will diminish the abilities of refugees to recover in the coming decades.
Diseases mark the most significant danger to refugees. Susceptibility to disease is a function of many factors, including nutrition, living conditions, sanitation facilities. Programs that provide all of these services have suffered under financial constraints. Recent outbreaks of measles and cholera, and the reduction in the value of food vouchers are examples. Data from camps indicate that health care utilization rates for the past three months are above average .
Many refugees and IDPs remain ill-equipped for the coming winter months, adding to health concerns. INGOs are struggling to deliver winterizing aid to these refugees. This is compounded by a lack of data on IDP locations and numbers. UNHCR, International Organization for Migration, the Kurdistan Region Statistics Office, Erbil Refugee Council, and other organizations are engaged in constant assessment, although precise location data on refugees and IDPs does not seem to exist .
A sense of hopelessness pervades displaced communities. Though some refugees and IDPs have started small retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses in their camps and communities, the majority are without any source of income. Tens of thousands of children are not attending regular education , and a small fraction of older youth are attending any vocation or higher education . Psychological care is nearly non-existent and the effects of the terror cause by ISIS and long-term displacement will be profound.
Most significantly, many of the homes that people have been displaced from are destroyed or still within ISIS territory, and many are afraid to return. Despite desperate conditions, many refugees cannot see themselves returning home in the near future. The NGO REACH Initiative recently found only 1% of displaced persons willing to return to their area of origin.
Impact on KRGThe refugee crisis has had profoundly deleterious effects on the economy of Kurdistan, the capacities of KRG ministries to provide services, and the stability of the Kurdistan Region itself. On September 23, the KRG Ministry of the Interior’s Joint Crisis Coordination Center issued a warning that, ‘without a drastic increase in funding from the international community and financial transactions from the GoI, the Region will neither be able to cope with the current crisis, nor respond to anticipated new displacements. As humanitarian partners formulate contingency plans, it is paramount to recognize that the Kurdistan Region has exhausted its response and absorption capacity and is at risk of total collapse. ’ In November 2014 as approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees flooded into Kurdistan, the World Bank and KRG Ministry of Planning published a report indicating that, in the best case, the KRG would require $1.4 billion infrastructure investments to stabilize the economy. Since then, over 1.5 million IDPs have found refuge in Kurdistan – the economic cost of this crisis is extreme. Learn more Humanitarian crisis publications For Yazidis traumatized by Islamic State horrors, few mental health resources UN: Not enough money for refugees in Iraq
How you can help
Write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them to allocate funds for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kurdistan
Donate to a humanitarian organization operating in Kurdistan or the KRG US Representation-sponsored Kurdish Relief Fund.