Iraq’s displacement crisis: security and protection

Lahib Higel


The humanitarian emergency in Iraq has become more severe over the past two years as the armed conflict continues: statistics suggest there are 3.2 million IDPs in the country and more than 8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. This report provides an up-to-date overview of the human rights situation of IDPs in Iraq since the emergence of ISIS, highlighting a number of vulnerability factors including public service provision, legal status and security conditions, and offering a number of governorate-level situational analyses. It argues that post-liberation strategies are urgently needed to address issues which complicate the protection of IDPs and threaten the stability of a future Iraq, such as the collapse of rule of law, tribal disputes and the withdrawal of the state.

The report draws on primary and secondary research: a literature review and telephone interviews support fieldwork in-country between September and November 2015. Geographically, the research is focused on IDPs originating from Anbar and areas either under ISIS control or those which have since been liberated, including the governorates of Babylon, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salhaddin. While this report is concerned with conflict-related displacement since ISIS’ advances, it recognises that protection issues are closely ties to protracted displacement and insecurity from earlier conflicts; many IDPs interviewed for the report have been displaced several times over the last decade.

Lack of documentation hinders IDP’s ability to access humanitarian assistance and basic public services. Distinguishing between different areas of displacement is necessary as each entry decisions are made at a governorate-level. Complicated and sometimes discriminatory governorate procedures regarding entry and exit, residency, registration, and access to public services have a major impact on IDP’s standard of living. The number of detentions has risen since the displacement crisis started, with people often detained under the Anti-Terrorism law. The scale of displacement has resulted in significant overcrowding in host cities and towns, creating tensions between IDPs and host communities as they compete for resources, inter-religious and tribal conflict heighten these tensions.

A high number of IDPs have returned to insecure situations such as, demolished property and land, lack of livelihood opportunities and tensions with neighbouring villages. The diffusion of conflict has brought about a state in which Iraqi government and regional and local institutions are often incapable of functioning effectively and exercising jurisdiction over their territory, and struggle to adapt to a reality of armed groups controlling conditions on the ground. Non-recognised security apparatus, tribal codes and empowered individuals have filled the void created by the absence of the state. It is difficult to hold these informal institutions or individuals to account for human rights violations.

The paper recommends that post-liberation strategies are urgently required to ensure that the opportunity to re-take territory and rebuild Iraq is not lost. These strategies need to address security needs, but also address reconciliation, community building, the re-establishment of rule of law, and the management of property restitution process:

  • For the international community this includes technical support for reparations and restitutions.
  • For the Kurdistan regional government this may involve standardising entry procedures for IDPs to avoid discrimination.
  • For the Federal Government of Iraq this requires working with civil society to foster reconciliation.


Higel, L. (2016). Iraq’s displacement crisis: security and protection. London: Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights.