Refugees and IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region in the State of Irak. It is mainly composed of Kurdish people, a people without an independent country which lives in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. There are around 5 millions people living in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Syrian refugees

From 2011, the civil war in Syria has caused the fleeing of 250,000 Syrians to Iraqi Kurdistan. Syrians who are welcomed here are mainly Syrian Kurds who lived in the north of Syria (Rojava). 90,000 Syrian refugees live in refugee camps managed by the UNHCR, the others live in urban areas. They can work and have the same human rights as Kurdish people.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

In 2014, Daesh (the Islamic State) forces took over the Iraqi territory. The city of Mosul fell in november 2014. In the years following, Daesh progressively took control over an important territory in Syria and Iraq, representing one third of the Iraqian territory.

As a consequence, 3 million people were displaced from their homes and fled to Kurdistan, a region that remained protected from Daesh uprise.  These Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are hosted in camps (30%) and in urban areas (70%). Amongst them, Shia and Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians, and Yezidis of Sinjar.


In total, 800,000 people live in camps in Kurdistan, which makes nearly 20% of the population. These camps are of various sizes and can be located far from the cities as well as in the suburb areas. They are managed by the Kurdish government and supported by the United Nations (UNHCR). Local and international NGOs work in camps, delivering services to their inhabitants (Water, sanitation & hygiene, cash-based assistance, education…). The most recent are basically equipped with tents whereas the “old” ones resemble small towns, with shops, schools, and everything for daily life. For the ones which are close to cities, it is frequent that inhabitants work outside, own a car, and go often to the city.

Future of IDPs & refugees

In the summer 2017, Mosul  then Tal Afar were liberated by the international coalition. ISIS now controls considerably less territory than before and most places where IDPs come from are freed from Daesh.

The question of future and return is therefore today’s main issue for IDPs. Aside with the will to come back, is the fear of finding homes destroyed and having to begin a new life from the beginning. Tensions between communities have also been increased by the war and some IDPs say that they cannot live along with their former neighbours anymore. Going back is therefore not the easiest choice. As well, lots of IDPs say they would like to go abroad, but possibilities are very thin. Their future, and the moment when they will leave from camps, are very uncertain and sources of anxiety.

The referendum

M. Barzani, chief of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, has announced that a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan will be held on the 25th of September. Kurds have been longing for the referendum since a long time but it is not supported by the international community. Tensions on the border zones between Kurdistan and the arab part of Iraq are increasing more and more as the date approaches, making it even more complicated for IDPs to consider their future.

-> During the workshops, these are issues that participants evoke a lot. Some radio programs focus on these questions. We hope this very short brief helps listeners to understand better the context.

To know more about the conflict and displacement in Iraq, see UNHCR Iraq website.