Kurdistan Regional Government
TUE, 20 OCT 2020 14:29 Erbil, GMT +3

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Impact of the Refugee Population on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The impact of the refugees on the local population has been keenly felt. While relations between refugees and the surrounding communities have been cordial for the most part, it has come to the attention of the KRG that there have been some disturbing reports of friction/tension among the locals and the refugees quite recently.

The local populace has had to deal with the sudden and massive influx of refugees to the area (especially in the August-September months). This has naturally had a transformative effect on our economy; competition for resources has been greatly affected – resources which are limited. For those refugees living outside camps and in the community, the overall demand for housing, schooling and jobs have increased. The ability to supply this has not matched the demands so logically the availability of places for homes, schools and jobs has precipitously decreased, depressing wages and personal income while in turn vastly raising/over-inflating the cost of living (rent, etc). This in turn gives way to exploitation.   

Additionally, there has been a reportedly sharp increase in antisocial behavior (i.e. petty crime, prostitution/‘curb-crawling’, licentiousness, larceny, begging) which is at least partly attributable to refugees being in an unfamiliar environment with strained economic resources. Finally, the presence of refugees in the Region represents a possible security threat to our communities that terrorists could exploit.

Possible solutions that address the needs of the refugees and the wider community

The KRG recognizes the need to collaborate efficiently with all stakeholders and partners to fulfill the gaps identified this year. The KRG is hopeful that the international community will respond to its continued calls for more attention, aid and assistance to the Syrian refugee crisis in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

1.     The KRG requests that greater resources be allocated for the needy; especially with regards to the planning and management of refugee camps; provision of shelter, suitable ventilation, sanitation systems, recreational activities, and all-round healthcare. Harsh winter months spent at these camps were known to be difficult for the refugees if the appropriate infrastructure is not in place, making the need for robust camps essential.

2.     The KRG encourages all humanitarian organizations to work more proactively with the KRG in ‘burden-sharing’ in order to alleviate the strain of the sudden influx, in whatever ways possible. The KRG needs help building camps with proper infrastructure: roads; sanitation, schools, health centers, as well as allowing for the provision of municipal services to these areas such as water, garbage-collection, etc. The KRG is also in the process of building transit camps near the border with Syria – this will give organizations on the ground in all of Kurdistan's provinces time to prepare for the arrival of new refugees and ease pressure.

3.     The KRG wishes to establish an economic or humanitarian corridor to better deal with the flood of refugees and to send humanitarian assistance to the other side. This lessens the burden and helps those families that are fleeing to the Kurdistan Region due to a shortage of aid and humanitarian assistance, rather than fleeing for security reasons.

Programs needed to properly address general issues

1.     Vaccinations, and other medical supplies, are urgently required to stop further outbreak of disease such as tuberculosis, polio, measles, and others. Owing to their cramped conditions, the refugees in camps are particularly prone. However, there is always the threat that airborne diseases such as TB could spread to the wider community. 

2.     Due to the disruption of normal family life, there have been reports of illiteracy among the young. Some children, having missed out on over two years of education, are unable to read and study in their native tongue. For adults, work and corresponding economic independence has been scarce. Chronic boredom reigns over the camps with people mainly subsisting in these conditions rather than properly living. The implementation of a comprehensive education program (preferably entrenched in the Syrian school curriculum) that makes use of the numerous young people of school-age would combat problems like illiteracy and endow them with an appropriate skill set. (More than one-third of refugees are of school-age.) Moreover, job-creation in and around the camps should be directed at the adults. Not only will this help occupy people and imbue them with a sense of responsibility and independence, it will also give them tools and skills to take back with them when normalcy is eventually restored in Syria.

3.     As camps are filled beyond capacity (Domiz Camp in Duhok has a limit of 25,000 people but currently hosts 45,000) the problem of malnutrition surfaces. While high-protein biscuits provided by UNICEF have been furnished to those most at risk, the fact remains that more needs to be done, especially with the unabated birth rate among refugees in the camps (some 10,000 women are pregnant). 

4.     Health and hygiene awareness is required among the refugees, especially those in the camps, in an effort to cut down on the spread of disease. Among these: the washing of hands, sterilization of equipment, and appropriate disposal of waste matter.

5.     Centralizing communication lines would be a great leap forward. One possibility is the great mass of refugees self-organizing into ‘elected’ representatives or spokespersons working on their behalf, so that their concerns can be better heard and their needs better met in a comprehensive fashion. This would improve the efficiency of camp administration by cutting down on ‘outside’ or divergent chatter.

6.     Helping to increase socialization and recreation among the refugees, particularly the young, and interaction with the wider community is critical. This would help reduce future antisocial behavior, as initiation into the social collective is important to all individuals and combats the sense of isolation and alienation. Familiarity with the refugees would also help reduce the chances of a possible terrorist attack by flagging up potential troublemakers.

Ultimately, the aim would be to lead, if not to individual autonomy, than at least to a ‘fulfillment of purpose’ for all: where people powerless to change the events in their lives feel they at least have some measure of control over the direction their lives take.

The ideal conclusion to dealing with the still unfolding humanitarian crisis in Syria would be if a political solution could be found thereby allowing those that fled the violence in Syria to return to their homes. However, even if, improbably, a solution were discovered tomorrow to end the conflict and restore peace, the fact remains that the refugees are in no position to return to whatever remains of their homes, cities, families, relatives, loved ones, and the country of which they were once a part. Their lives have irrevocably changed. If the situation is not remedied soon, there is the potential that isolated cases of apathy and antipathy among refugees could turn into a full-blown insurrection. The KRG is making and will continue to make every effort to care for Syrian refugees of all ages and conditions, and continues to seek assistance from humanitarian agencies and the international community to keep pace with the substantial and growing financial and logistical burden this entails.


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