Walking through my affluent neighborhood in Bakhtiari, Erbil Iraq as dusk settled in, I noticed two tents located in a high rise still under construction. Outside the tent a young woman wearing black abaya bounced her small infant on her hip in 110 degree heat. Thousands of people like this family are living in similar conditions throughout Iraq; some are taking refuge in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) and refugee camps, others are being hosted by locals, and some are living in mosques that lack electricity and adequate water supplies. Thousands of refugees from Syria have taken up residency as refugees in Iraq, people from one conflict zone deciding to take refuge in another. Thousands of Iraqis from Ninewah Governorate are now internally displaced, forced to leave with the clothes on their back and what they can carry to safer regions within their country. As Iraq tries to form a new government following the elections, government ministries are trying to respond to this mass migration. As resources are scarce without a new government budget, there are concerns that these individuals in need will not be provided for, and that as their numbers increase they will face suspicion and discrimination from the locals.
In response to this new crisis, international organizations including UNHCR, DRC, IRC, and the WMP are working to assess the IDPs’ and refugees’ needs and instate protection monitoring. The Access to Justice program is coordinating with these organizations to assist in rapid assessments and administrative legal assistance. Often families flee without being able to obtain their family members’ government documentation; without these documents the IDPs cannot register with the government to receive government assistance. Our partner legal clinics are going out into the communities they work in to document the displaced families, raise their awareness on the importance of registration, and provide legal assistance when necessary (particularly for the issuance of new documentation). Yesterday, I met with the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Migration and Displacement; recognizing the assistance legal aid can provide in this situation, he is interested in partnering with our legal clinics to increase awareness and legal assistance to the displaced. This humanitarian crisis is going to be long term and requires enhanced coordination among the local government, central government, civil society, and international community.