Currently, the United Nations estimates that there are 22.5 million refugees out of 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. An estimated 55 percent of refugees have fled from South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria totalling 9.4 million.
When assisting refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) aid is determined by several categories such as the season, amount of IDPs inside camps versus in surrounding villages and cities, and youth to adult ratio, among others. Aid is distributed amongst different projects relating to education, health, food and shelter which are meant to adapt to each situation and the changing conditions. As the Education Coordinator for the Swedish non-governmental organization (NGO) Joint Help for Kurdistan I, unfortunately, experienced the discrepancies in humanitarian aid between refugees and IDPs.
A refugee by definition is a person who has forcibly fled their home country due to political persecution, threats of war or natural disaster. An IDP is a person who has forcibly fled their home due to political persecution, threats of war or natural disaster but has stayed within their countries borders. In Iraq, there are 3.2 million IDPs and an estimated 1.5 million IDPs under the Kurdish Regional Governments (KRG) control in the northern one third of the country.*
According to international laws, foreign governments cannot intervene in domestic affairs if the people are not under immediate life threatening circumstances. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) act by the United Nations does not cover emergencies relating to education, psychological help, job assistance, community awareness or infrastructure rebuilding. They have stated that an emergency resolution for Iraqi IDPs specifically has been put in place for wider access, but this is still extremely limited and barely visible on the ground.
For humanitarian aid to be distributed shelter arrangements, such as within a camp or in a village, are largely taken into account. To legally distribute aid and coordinate projects within IDP camps all proposals have to go through the Board of Relief for Humanitarian Affairs (BRHA). The objective is to consolidate aid for effective and efficient distribution to reduce project redundancy from NGOs. Unfortunately, this has not been my experience.
Corruption in mandatory pathways for aid distribution is very common and there is no concrete system to weed this out. I have personally experienced government officials threatening to reject project proposals in IDP camps if they did not receive a financial cut of the donor funds. Sadly, this obstacle is all to common when trying to provide aid to IDPs within each district and worsens if aid is being transferred between districts.
Another problem for the people is the promised financial aid from the central government, Baghdad, that, by the constitution, is mandatorily allocated to the KRG. This was halted in 2015 and the KRG region has received practically zero humanitarian aid since then. This is an enormous humanitarian issue, especially since about half of the IDPs in Iraq are in the KRG region.
The latest humanitarian concern is that IDPs and refugees are facing winter conditions of heavy rains and snow while living in tents or makeshift shelters. The United Nations estimates that 11 million people in Iraq are in need of assistance and their latest report on seasonal changes states increasing challenges. They estimate that there are 15 million Syrian and Iraq refugees and IDPs scattered across the region. Their US$ 245 million Regional Winter Assistance Plan for 2017/2018 covers winter aid for both Syrian and Iraqi refugees and IDPs in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, however this plan is only 26 percent funded by governments and partners.
The continued corruption and conflict inside the Iraqi and KRG governments as well as disfunction of international assistance has resulted in major humanitarian gaps, disappearances of large sums of money for rehabilitation and rebuilding, and excessive humanitarian workers in the cities resulting in ineffective aid targeting. While the rest of the world sees numbers, the actual people who represent the 3.2 million IDPs and the 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq live day in and day out waiting for our promises to become reality.
*This figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of recently displaced people in October 2017 from Kirkuk, Zummar, Sinjar and the surrounding areas due the military conflict between the Iraqi military and Hash’d al Shaabi, and the Peshmerga.
All comments written in this article are of the opinion of Emmaly Read alone and do not reflect the views of Joint Help for Kurdistan: a Swedish NGO.