Despite the challenging political climate in Iraq, the current economic downturn and the COVID-19 situation, the protection environment in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), where the vast majority of refugees in Iraq resides, remains favourable, despite some challenges as a result of COVID-19 related movement restrictions, particularly the closure of the border with Syria. Local authorities and host communities remain welcoming and accommodating towards the refugee population.
The protection environment is not expected to change significantly in 2021 with regards to access to basic services and documentation, but access to territory for Syrians seeking asylum and protection in Iraq may be affected if restrictions at the border continue due to the pandemic.
However, the absence of an effective legal framework for refugee protection in Iraq continues to preclude longerterm residency rights and other legal benefits for Syrian refugees. The difficult economic situation has negatively affected the livelihood opportunities of Iraqis and Syrian refugees alike and stretches the existing public services.
Lack of access to sustainable employment and livelihood opportunities remains the main vulnerability reported by Syrian refugees and the root cause of protection issues, such as child labour and child marriage. It also led to refugees seeking relocation to camps and not being able to cover costs related to multiple needs, such as renting adequate accommodation, purchasing food for the household, ensuring children’s school attendance, and accessing adequate healthcare services.
Advocacy for an effective legal framework for refugee protection and to maintain or enhance the favourable protection environment remains a priority to ensure safe and unhindered access to territory, safety, asylum and freedom of movement for refugees with a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) residency permit, including new arrivals and extending this freedom of movement throughout other governorates in Iraq. Resettlement options remain limited for refugees in Iraq in comparison to the overall requirements. UNHCR will advocate for increased resettlement spaces and further explore complementary pathways.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities. Movement restrictions, combined with the temporary closure of shops and non-essential businesses, had a negative effect on food security and the ability to meet basic needs, resulting in an increased need for food and cash assistance, and livelihoods interventions.
Assistance delivery modalities had to be modified in 2020 due to the pandemic, with many activities being performed remotely. With the pandemic still ongoing, remote modalities are likely to continue, with activities transitioning into in-person modality, when possible and keeping health precautions in place. Additional programming will be put in place to address exacerbated needs caused by the COVID-19 situation.
However, given the protracted displacement of the majority of the Syrian refugees in the KR-I, the 2021-2022 3RP Iraq Chapter continues to aim at a gradual transition from emergency humanitarian response to a longer-term solutions-oriented approach by building on constructive initiatives launched during recent years with a focus on inclusion of refugees and strengthened public services and national systems. This gradual transition strengthens the resilience of the refugee community and host community alike, empowers host authorities through capacity building, enhances income-generating programming and requires stronger engagement with development actors.
The Protection Sector, and Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Child Protection Sub-Sectors, continue to invest in capacity-building activities and close collaboration with the KRG Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The Education Sector supports the KRG Ministry of Education with the preparation of the Education Integration Policy for Syrian Refugees. The Health, Shelter and WASH Sectors further explore avenues to withdraw from parallel humanitarian interventions and invest in public services, including the integration of refugee camps into the surrounding municipalities, and investing in the capacities of the refugee and host communities, and national systems. Finally, the Basic Needs and Food Sectors continue their efforts to align their targeting frameworks and interventions with national social protection systems.