Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2016, 09:30 GMT

Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Iraq

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 29 April 2013
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Iraq, 29 April 2013, available at: [accessed 24 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Number of IDPsAt least 2,100,000
Percentage of total populationAbout 6.2%
Start of displacement situation1968
Peak number of IDPs (year)2,840,000 (2008)
New displacement in 2012Undetermined
Causes of displacementx International armed conflict
x Internal armed conflict
x Deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
✓ Communal violence
✓ Criminal violence
✓ Political violence
Human development index131

An estimated 2.1 million Iraqis were internally displaced as of the end of 2012, of whom more than three-quarters were living in protracted displacement. Iraq has experienced multiple waves of displacement over the past 30 years, the most serious of which took place after the 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine, when more than two million people fled sectarian violence. According to the Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MOMD), 235,610 people returned to their places of origin in 2012 and 1.1 million remained displaced. The official figures, however, do not take into account the displacements that took place before 2006, the fact that not all IDPs are registered as such, and the questionable nature of some returns.

Iraq's IDPs live with families, in rented accommodation or in informal settlements in urban areas, and shelter continues to be one of their most pressing problems. As of the end of 2012, around 467,000 IDPs, returnees and squatters were living in more than 382 informal settlements across the country. Baghdad alone has 125 such settlements, where more than 191,000 people live in harsh conditions, with inadequate access to electricity, sanitation, schools and job opportunities. Given that the settlements were established illegally, residents face a high risk of eviction. Those who are evicted are forced into secondary displacement, driving them further into poverty. Parliament issued an order in 2010 to halt evictions from informal settlements, but they increased in number during 2012.

More than a year after the withdrawal of US forces, Iraq is still struggling to maintain national security and build political stability. Insecurity and a lack of livelihood opportunities continued to be the main factors which prevent IDPs from returning. Many do not hold official documents such as birth certificates and residency permits, without which they struggle to access basic services and reclaim their property.

Female-headed households are particularly affected by the lack of employment and livelihood opportunities. They are poorly protected and responsible for the wellbeing of family members, but have no income or social safety net and receive inadequate government support. The spread of religious conservatism has reinforced negative attitudes towards women, restricting their participation in public life in general and the labour market in particular. As a result, internally displaced women struggle to access the few economic opportunities available to IDPs. They have also become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and gender-based violence.

Violence continued to be unpredictable and sporadic during 2012, but the most insecure governorates, including Baghdad, Ninewa and Diyala, also experienced the highest levels of displacement. Tensions between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds remained high, and a lack of confidence in the government's ability to ensure their security in their places of origin has deterred the majority of IDPs from returning. Instead, they have sought safety in areas where their own religious or ethnic group is dominant, with the smallest minorities settling in Kurdish-controlled areas. Ethnic and religious enclaves continued to grow during the year in several of the country's governorates.

Iraqis who had previously sought refuge across the border in Syria have come back to escape the escalating conflict there, and in doing so many of these returning refugees have become IDPs. The fighting in Syria has developed along similar sectarian lines, which constitutes a threat to Iraq's political stability.

Many Iraqi IDPs are living in protracted displacement, and the longer this continues the more difficult it will become to establish long-term solutions for return or resettlement. The government launched a four-year national plan aimed at ending displacement in 2011, under which it has focused on return as its preferred durable solution. Assessments by the International Organisation for Migration, however, show that 85 per cent of IDPs would rather integrate locally. With the support of UNHCR and other non-state organisations, the government is becoming more open to the concepts of local integration and resettlement.

MOMD has calculated that ending displacement will cost more than $600 million, while underlining that even with the allocation of the necessary funds the process will take a number of years. For IDPs this means a life in limbo, without adequate access to rights and services, while facing the constant threat of secondary displacement. Their plight has been overshadowed by competing priorities and the evolving crisis in Syria, and with the issue low on the government's priority list and international funding decreasing sharply, their future remains uncertain.

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