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A family made homeless by violence sits outside their makeshift shelter in northern Iraq
Millions uprooted

Iraq

The International Rescue Committee helps Iraqis and Syrian refugees who have been displaced by conflict to survive and empowers communities to rebuild.

Country facts
  • Total population: 38.3 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 1.7 million Iraqis and over 250,000 Syrian refugees
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 120 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Iraq: 2003
  • People assisted in 2018: 95,000

Iraq crisis briefing

The IRC provides humanitarian relief and ongoing support to Iraqis affected by crisis, as well Syrian refugees.

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What caused the current crisis in Iraq?

After the invasion by coalition forces in 2003, Iraq began fracturing along sectarian lines, ushering in a period of violence and displacement. After war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, ISIS took advantage of societal tensions and grievances in the region.

The group captured parts of Anbar in 2013, then swept through Sinjar and Mosul in a brutal 2014 campaign that forced almost 6 million people to flee their homes. Although major military operations against ISIS concluded in late 2017, ISIS still poses a threat in parts of the country.

Around 4 million people have returned to their homes, although many without livelihood opportunities, proper shelter, or basic services. Over 1.7 million remain displaced and live in harsh conditions in camps or scattered towns, often in rural areas, with limited or no access to schools or jobs.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Iraq?

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is far from over. Thousands of Iraqis remain in desperate need of shelter, food, water, education, and safety.   

Camps for the displaced in Anbar province have started closing down, but many areas remain unsafe for returns and lack basic services or livelihood opportunities. Many are unable to return because their homes are destroyed. Forcing people to return before it’s safe will only lead to further displacement, community tensions, and suffering.

The retaking of Mosul—Iraq's second largest city—does not mean an automatic end to the suffering of the 1.5 million people who spent more than two years living under harsh ISIS rule.

The IRC is working to help Mosul residents rebuild their lives by providing training and grants for new businesses, securing identity documents so people are able to access government services, and investing in education for children.

Syrian refugees who have lived for years in camps inside Iraq face dwindling services and support. As options run out, some choose to make the dangerous journey to Europe, or even to return to war-torn Syria.

How does the IRC help in Iraq?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Iraq in 2003, providing humanitarian relief and recovery assistance to the most vulnerable and crisis-affected Iraqis. We also have provided emergency support to thousands of Syrians fleeing the civil war that began in 2011. The IRC now works in four out of 18 Iraqi governorates—Anbar, Salah al-Din, Ninewa and Kirkuk - with offices in Erbil and Baghdad Governorates.

Specifically, the IRC:  

  • provides cash assistance to displaced families;
  • teaches parenting-skills classes to reduce violence against children at home;
  • offers counselling, group activities and legal support to women and girls;
  • supports tutoring classes and specialised teacher training in overtaxed schools to ensure Iraqi children have access to quality education;
  • provides technical skills and business training to Iraqi youth, and life-skills programs for teenage girls, and;
  • identifies safety issues and rights violations through extensive community protection monitoring and reporting.

What still needs to be done in Iraq?

The IRC’s work in Iraq is more critical than ever. Iraqis need jobs, quality education and health care, and fair access to government assistance, including justice and compensation for the immense losses they experienced during the conflict. After years of war, investment in children and youth, and psychological support to help people overcome the trauma they have faced, is urgently needed.

We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in safety, empowerment, education, and economic well-being.

Safety

The IRC will continue to provide emergency legal assistance and referrals for vulnerable people in need of protection.

For those suffering from psychological trauma, we offer support to promote healing.

We also work to ensure equal outcomes for women and girls where they live, learn and work.

Power

The IRC will continue to document the state of people’s shelter, safety and rights, providing information and service referrals particularly to the most marginalised.

Our advocacy work in partnership with local and international groups will elevate the needs of Iraqis with policy makers and donors.

Education

The IRC is committed to expanding programs for Iraqi children by providing specially trained teachers and safe classrooms.

Economic wellbeing

The IRC will continue to provide cash assistance to vulnerable and uprooted families.

We will also help displaced Iraqis find safe and legal work opportunities.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC Iraq strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

 

Our impact

In 2016, the IRC and our partner organisations in Iraq provided:

40,000+

people with emergency supplies, vocational training, business grants and cash assistance to help rebuild their lives.

After the defeat of ISIS in Anbar province, Khalid and his family returned to a destroyed house and shattered livelihoods.

Watch their story
20,900

women and girls with support to recover from violence and crisis.

The IRC helps survivors of violence recover from trauma and feel safe in their communities.

Explore our safety work.
6,400

students with safe classrooms in which to continue their education.

We are training teachers in Iraq, many displaced themselves, to help provide safe learning environments for children uprooted by war.

Read their stories.

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