The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is working with the Kurdish government and several humanitarian and development partners to overcome challenges in urban areas affected by large scale displacement and refugees.
According to a statement from the UN office in Iraq, a study titled Displacement as Challenge and Opportunity, “addresses the need for an in-depth analysis of urban displacement. Its impact on both displaced and host populations in the Governorate is scrutinized with the objective to guide future long-term responses to the urban challenges created by large-scale displacement.”
The organization said that local authorities in Erbil welcome the move, believing that host cities to refugees and displaced people are also affected in the process and need attention while most of the focus is usually on refugee camps.
The UN reports that the Kurdistan Region has seen a 30% population increase since 2011 due to an influx of refugees who have arrived in the region escaping the war and conflict in Iraq and Syria.
“Today, the KR-I hosts over 1 million displaced persons, putting pressure on the region’s limited resources, particularly with respect to the provision of public services, at a time when the regional government is facing severe economic challenges,” the UN said in a statement on Wednesday.
According to a report by the UN 25 percent of Erbil’s 2-million population is either a refugee or a displaced Iraqi and an overwhelming 95% of the province’s displaced families living out of camp. The project also includes Sulaimani and Duhok.
“In some areas like Baharka or Shaqlawa, the population has doubled since 2011, drastically changing the fabric of the community: IDPs and refugees now make up almost 50% of the local population, creating obvious challenges for public services to address population needs in those areas, and social tensions.” reports the UN.
UNHCR Coordinator for the Kurdistan Region Jozef Merkx believes that the perspective of the host communities must be taken into account when dealing with such large numbers of new arrivals. “Most of the displaced population live in urban areas, along with the local population,” Merkx said.
“It is crucial to have an area-based approach which takes into account the perspective of host communities, and the response capacity of the government, in order to design relevant, comprehensive response plans.”
In trying to find ways to respond to the needs of the local population the joint study looks at the impact of recent displacement waves from five angles: urban spaces and social cohesion, employment, households’ financial situation, education and challenges to return home.
“The goal is to bolster living conditions of urban communities heavily impacted by the recent waves of displacement, irrespective of status,” said Bruno Geddo, UNHCR Representative in Iraq as quoted on the agency’s website. “And this can be done when displaced people are empowered to become productive members of the society.”