From 2003 up until 2013, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq opened its doors to more than 600,000 internally displaced Iraqis. The Government and the people of the Kurdistan Region understood that sustainable peace and development cannot be accomplished if some members of society are marginalized. Thus, the KRG championed for inclusiveness by ensuring that these new members of our society were granted the same rights, protections and access to services.
Today, the Syrian civil war has produced one of the largest displacement crises in the world and a significant number of Syrians fleeing violence have sought safety and shelter in the Kurdistan Region. In a sudden escalation of violence, the brutal invasion of the Islamic State in 2014 resulted in the forced displacement of three million Iraqis. The situation has rapidly developed into a full scale level-three humanitarian crisis. Offering protection and shelter, the Kurdistan Region once again became a safe haven for more than half of the displaced population and continued to keep its borders open.
Today, the Kurdistan Region is offering safety, protection, and services to 280,000 Syrian refugees and up to 1.5 million IDPs. In 2014, an average of 80,000 IDPs entered the Kurdistan Region every month. These figures exclude the displaced populations served by the KRG in the neighboring provinces. As a result of multiple waves of displacement, the population of the Kurdistan Region has increased by almost 30%, placing immense pressure on existing resources and services. The World Bank and Ministry of Planning have calculated the stabilization costs at $1.4 billion for a return to the pre-crisis baseline. While the nature of the crisis challenges the ability to collect exact displacement figures, the number is significant enough to raise acute emergency alarms.
Containing an extended level-three crisis
The Government of Iraq has unconstitutionally withheld KRG’s 17% share of the annual budget for the past 17 months. This has crippled the KRG’s ability to maintain public services for the local population and to meet the basic needs of the IDPs. Confronted with a trifecta of crises – loss of 90% of the fiscal transfers, the refugee and IDP crises and the war on ISIS – the KRG cannot maintain its level of contribution and open-door policy without putting the safety and welfare of the population and stability of the Region at risk. Whilst the initial consequences are apparent, the full scale of the impacts is still unfolding due to the on-going nature and magnitude of the conflict.
Contingency and preparedness: The liberation of Mosul
Up to date, the KRG has managed to contain the crisis and meet the basic needs of the affected populations with the assistance of UN Agencies and national and international NGOs. Yet the heaviest burden has been borne by the host communities, whose living standards, access to services and opportunities have drastically deteriorated over the past few years. Regrettably, the Government of Iraq has remained largely absent in the response to the IDP crisis in the Kurdistan Region despite its constitutional duty to its displaced citizens.
In one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crisis, the KRG and humanitarian partners on the ground are challenged to meet the deepening needs of a population in protracted displacement, while also responding to new emergencies and influxes. The military operations and subsequent displacements from Anbar have offered an insight into the likely outcomes of the anticipated liberation of Mosul. Based on previous displacement trends, geographic proximity, safety and security in the Kurdistan Region and the restricted access policies of other provinces in Iraq, it is estimated that at least half a million people are likely flee to the Kurdistan Region. The respective costs are estimated at a minimum of $ 275 million to meet the basic lifesaving needs of IDPs for a period of six months.
The reconstruction of Sinjar
Sinjar, a city mainly inhabited by Yezidis, which has been recaptured in November 2015 after being under the occupation of ISIS for one year, is heavily damaged and the majority of the private homes are looted. Public buildings, schools, hospitals and social service infrastructure are destroyed. Public and private assets were either destroyed or looted including equipment, furniture and machinery of government institutions, private property, material possessions and livestock of local people and the property of businesses. The costs for the reconstruction of the town are estimated in the double digit millions.
Preventing regional collapse, providing more local support
The Kurdistan Region is on the verge of a breakdown under the extended level-three emergency. Over the past years, the refugee and IDP response plans have remained chronically underfunded. Also in 2016, the two central response plans HRP2016 and 3RP have not nearly received the necessary funding. So far, only 30 percent of the needed financial means where brought up, which does not suffice to meet the basic needs of IDPs. Adding to this pressured funding situation, the Government of Iraq has not only lacked in providing assistance but has also withheld KRG’s share of the federal budget. It is the regrettable conclusion of the KRG that without a drastic increase in funding from the international community and financial transactions from the Government of Iraq, 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. KRG remains committed to its humanitarian responsibilities and will continue to voice the plight of the women, men and children in distress. The KRG is thus calling on the international community and the Government of Iraq to provide the region with the necessary resources and technical support to continue offering a safe haven to those in need.