“We are just trying to give our children a future”

Published 15. Oct 2023
Self-reliance for Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Since 2012, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has generously hosted over 260,000 refugees fleeing conflict and violence in Syria. Over the years, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has worked with humanitarian partners to initiate concrete policies that allow for a degree of self-reliance for a community unable to return home, including renewable residency permits, limited access to the labour market, and greater education access. The Refugee Education Integration Policy (REIP), for example, seeks to promote equitable access to education, support social cohesion, and gradually integrate children of Syrian descent into Kurdish host communities through the formal schooling system.

Despite the gains made, some challenges remain. Almost 12 years since being displaced, Syrian refugees face an uncertain future as refugees across the Middle East. Despite conditions in Syria remaining untenable for sustainable return, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have indicated intent to repatriate refugees. While Iraq has taken significant steps to support and integrate Syrians in the Kurdistan Region, Baghdad too has recently deported three Syrian Kurds to Damascus and detained an additional 70 for allegedly violating the residency system.

Deportation of refugees to Syria is inconsistent with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) position on facilitating and promoting returns at this time and may amount to refoulement under international law. Given the protracted nature of the response, the sharp decline of humanitarian funding, and the unsustainability of near-term return, it is important to capitalise and expand on policy gains to support prospects for durable solutions in KRI.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has supported refugees and host communities in the KRI since 2012, providing education, legal assistance, shelter, hygiene (WASH) and livelihoods assistance. Concurrent to programming, NRC has worked alongside authorities and the United Nations on developing and advocating for policies and practice that recognise and respond to both the specific needs and rights of refugees, and those of host communities.

Supported by the Swiss State Secretariat of Migration (SEM), this report uses survey data, field insights and NRC’s programmatic experience to assess lingering barriers to durable solutions for Syrian refugees in Iraq. Specifically, the report assesses opportunity and vulnerability across four themes: impact of reduced aid assistance; equitable access to education; access to formal employment and income; and refugee perceptions of self-reliance and durable solutions.