Complexity of Humanitarian Response to Internal Displacement in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

in collaboration with AUD

LSE PI: Dr Zeynep Kaya
Co-PI: Dr Deniz Gokalp
Duration: September 2016–February 2018

Josh Zakary,, 2016.

Internal displacement is a major humanitarian and security issue in the world. Contrary to general belief, there are far more ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) than refugees in the world today. According to figures released by UNHCR, 65.3 million people were displaced in 2015, 21.3 million of them were refugees while 44 million of them remained internally displaced. The scale of the problem is challenging the capacity of humanitarian organisations and governments to respond to the needs of IDPs.

This project focused on how the special territorial and governance status of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), often considered as a state-like entity, influences the humanitarian response to IDPs in this region. It aimed to understand the specific implications of Iraqi Kurdistan’s status, examining the national and international response to the displacement crisis and the socio-political structure of the region.

Assessing the scale of the crisis is not easy, as internal displacement in not a new issue in Iraqi Kurdistan and IDPs are constantly on the move. According to the International Organisation for Migration, in April 2016 over 3.3 million Iraqis were estimated to be internally displaced, of whom 1 million were located in Iraqi Kurdistan. The sheer size of the IDP crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan is often not on the international agenda due to more emphasis on the conflict in Syria and other pressing IDP crises elsewhere in the world. Moreover, Iraqi Kurdistan has not been receiving its share of the national budget from Baghdad due to tensions between the Kurdish and Iraqi governments.

These circumstances place enormous pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan’s economic resources and infrastructure and pose major challenges for the combined efforts of international organisations, the KRG and local NGOs to successfully manage the constantly growing humanitarian crisis in the region. In particular, significant challenges include addressing the safety, housing, employment and health-related needs of the displaced communities. Furthermore, the crisis will have ethno-political and demographic repercussions for the Kurdish region in the long term. Iraqi Kurdistan provides a unique case study to understand how policies on the management of IDPs, provision for protection and relief, and collaboration between national, international and local actors, differ in regions with autonomous sovereignty. It will analyse the short-term and long-term socio-political repercussions of displacement for Iraq as well as for the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

This project forms part of the Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme, funded by the Emirates Foundation.

Project Outputs

  • In May 2017, a training course on responses to internal displacement crises was organised at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.
  • In November 2017, an international conference was organised at LSE bringing together academics, experts and practioners to discuss responses to displacement in the Middle East more generally. Papers presented at the conference were published as part of a series on the LSE Middle East Centre blog.

Research Team


Zeynep Kaya | Principal Investigator

Zeynep is Research Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and Research Officer at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security. 


Deniz Gökalp | Co-Principal Investigator

Deniz is Associate Professor of Social Sciences at the American University in Dubai. She received her MA and PhD in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin.


Nesreen Barwari | Consultant

Nesreen is Lecturer and Researcher of Governance and Urban Planning at the University of Duhok, Iraq.

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