Most refugees from Iraq were forced to leave their homes after the militant group ISIS invaded the region. ISIS began to infiltrate Iraq in 2014, creating a large-scale humanitarian crisis in the region. Since then, ISIS has gained control of some of the largest cities in the country and has caused 3.4 million individuals to be uprooted from their homes.
Increasing numbers of displaced persons are fleeing war-torn regions of Iraq, and in response to the crisis, international organizations are rallying to provide relief. Ahead are 10 facts about refugees from Iraq.
- Many Iraqis are internally displaced and have relocated to safer parts of the country. Around 850,000 Iraqis have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where 250,000 Syrian refugees are already living. Many people now live in displacement camps with access to emergency supplies and medical care.
- Nearly 16,000 Iraqis were forced into Syria, where ISIS is also controlling various regions of the country. Many refugees pay smugglers to lead them on dangerous and exhausting journeys across ISIS territory.
- Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, remains in the hands of ISIS. Around 500,000 people may be trapped in the western part of the city with minimal or no access to necessary aid. Those who live in the eastern part of Mosul are living in dangerous conditions as well and will also face the challenge of entirely rebuilding their lives.
- In October 2016, a military operation began to free the city of Mosul from ISIS control. Even if the operation is eventually successful and Mosul is retaken from ISIS, mines and other explosive devices will remain scattered throughout the city. This will prevent many refugees from returning home safely.
- In addition to food and shelter, many Iraqi refugees require trauma counseling and medical care. ISIS has imposed severe restrictions on the individuals who live in the regions it controls. People are left without jobs and struggle to meet their basic needs. Numerous religious buildings and heritage sites have also been destroyed.
- The International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides relief to vulnerable Iraqis. It provides counseling to women and girls, gives monetary aid to displaced families and provides business training to Iraqi youth in camps.
- The World Bank plans to offer Iraq financial support for reconstruction efforts after ISIS is defeated. The organization will also focus efforts on rebuilding the social fabric of the country upon the return of refugees. In December, the World Bank approved a loan of $1.485 billion to Iraq.
- In 2016, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) provided immediate relief to more than 118,000 people in Mosul. They also gave more than 156,000 people in the area access to safe water and vaccinated more than 13,500 children against measles. The organization plans to continue these efforts in 2017, with a goal of providing 1.3 million displaced persons with relief kits within 72 hours of a trigger for response.
- The International Organization for Migration (IOM) partners with local authorities in the Kerbala and Najaf governorates of Iraq to meet the needs of internally displaced persons. It provides medical and mental health services at camps in the region. In 2016, the organization oversaw the refurbishment of three schools and a water network benefiting 8,2000 individuals.
- Refugee camps run by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will have increasing space as displaced persons begin to return to east Mosul. In camps near the city, there are more than 4,000 family plots available for new arrivals. UNHCR plans to develop additional facilities and plots as need increases.
Though the situation of many refugees from Iraq is bleak, hope remains. Organizations are working to provide relief to those displaced by the conflict. The fight to return ISIS-controlled regions of Iraq to their people will continue.
– Lindsay Harris