Though the U.S. military's occupation of Iraq has now ended, the country continues to face large scale displacement and pressing humanitarian needs. Millions of Iraqis have fled their homes – either for safer locations within Iraq or to other countries in the region – and are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. Iraq’s future will only be secure and prosperous if the needs of the displaced are also considered in all current and future policies and planning.

Current Humanitarian Situation

Among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan, and other parts of the region, as well as the millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Iraq, over 500,000 of whom live as squatters in slum areas with no assistance or legal right to the properties they occupy. Most refugees cannot work legally, making it increasingly difficult for them to pay rent and afford school fees for their children. Consequently, some are forced to return to an insecure and unstable Iraq and often find themselves displaced within the country.
While the Government of Iraq is well situated to generate significant revenue from its oil reserves, it will take years if not decades before these resources reach the most vulnerable. Currently the Government of Iraq lacks both the capacity and the political will to use its resources to address humanitarian needs. At the same time, the continued lack of security makes it nearly impossible for UN international staff to access the populations in most need of assistance. Local NGOs often have the best connections and access but are not directly funded by international donors.
Though there have been some returns of both IDPs and refugees, the majority have not been able to access their original homes and properties, which may have been occupied or destroyed. Ongoing violence, especially in the central provinces, coupled with a lack of jobs, basic social services, and opportunities, makes voluntary return impossible for most.  While Refugees International hopes that Iraqis will be able to return to their homes in the future, the necessary conditions for returns to take place in safety and dignity still do not exist.  Local integration of IDPs may be a solution for some and should be actively considered by the Government of Iraq.
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Like Syria and Lebanon, Jordan has been a host country for both Iraqi refugees and Palestinians in the past decades. However, the country has few natural resources, significant unemployment, and depends significantly on foreign aid. These factors have both limited its capacity to absorb refugee populations, and led to increasing public protests and calls for reform. Although not signatory to the Refugee Convention, the Jordanian government remains open to working with international actors inside its borders to address humanitarian concerns.
Current Humanitarian Situation
As of August 2012, roughly 37,000 Syrian refugees had registered in Jordan after fleeing violence in their home country, though the government estimates it is actually hosting 150,000 or more. This large influx is a cause of concern within the government. Syrian refugees were initially taken to transit centers on the northern border, they could be bailed out by Jordanian nationals and then join friends or family members in host communities. However, in July 2012, Jordan opened a large refugee camp for up to 150,000 people in response to the overwhelming number of arrivals and the difficulty of providing services to what had been a widely dispersed population.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees will remain outside the camp in urban settings and will need support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners as the cost of food and shelter continues to rise. Donors have recognized the importance of supporting the host communities as well as the refugees, but funds have been slow to arrive.
Iraqi refugees began arriving in Jordan in large numbers in 2003, and the government estimates that 450,000 may be in the country. The UNHCR, meanwhile, has only registered 32,000. As in Lebanon, the UNHCR provides services so that Iraqi refugees can survive, but Iraqis generally cannot obtain legal status in Jordan, nor can they return to Iraq safely. Their most likely prospect for a long-term solution is resettlement – usually a long and slow process..
Jordan’s Palestinian population is generally thought to include about half of the country’s total population. Many Palestinians hold Jordanian citizenship, and on paper have the same rights as other Jordanian citizens. Nonetheless, there are reports of discrimination –especially in education and employment opportunities – and several hundred thousand Palestinians have been forced to live in camps by poor socioeconomic conditions. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) assists these camp populations.
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Kuwait is a small, oil-rich country, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north and Iran to the east. However, the problem of statelessness has yet to be resolved in the country.  In 1959, Kuwait passed a Nationality Law, which defined nationals as persons who settled in the country before 1920 and maintained normal residence there until enactment of the law. At that time, about one-third of the population was classified as bidun jinsiya (without nationality). The current number of bidun is estimated to range from 80,000-140,000.

Current Humanitarian Situation
Bidun once made up the bulk of the armed forces and police, individuals who served their country loyally. After 1985, however, the government of Kuwait dismissed the bidun from their jobs, barred their children from public and private schools, and revoked their driving licenses. Following the liberation of the country from Iraqi occupation in 1991, the government further stepped up its efforts to strip the bidun of their rights.

Lack of legal status impacts all areas of life for bidun: their identity, family life, residence, health, livelihood, and lack of a political voice. Employment in the formal sector is unstable and usually only possible through “favors”, so bidun are forced to seek livelihoods in the underground economy. Their vulnerable status and lack of institutional protection renders them exploitable in what has been described as “a new form of slavery.”

In July 2006, Kuwait’s parliament created a committee to address the issue of the bidun. On a nearly annual basis parliament approves a law granting citizenship to 2,000 bidun – a commendable act that is not fulfilled in practice. Last year, for example, only several hundred individuals were able to adjust their legal status. In addition to parliamentary activity, the bidun themselves and sympathetic citizens have come together to form the Popular Committee for Support of the Bidun.


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Like Syria and Jordan, Lebanon has served as a host country for both Iraqi refugees and Palestinians. No stranger to upheaval itself, Lebanon has seen ongoing conflict of varying intensities for decades, while Syrian troops only withdrew from the country in 2005 after considerable disagreement among Lebanese. The two countries are also tied together by large populations of Syrian migrant workers, who go back and forth on a regular basis. Many Lebanese communities close to Syria depend upon this cross-border commerce and employment to survive.
Current Humanitarian Situation
As of August 2012, 33,000 Syrian refugees have registered in Lebanon. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners – including  the Lebanese government – have been providing assistance with food, shelter and medical care, as most Syrians arrived with few resources and little money. Many of the refugees were received by Lebanese host families or supported by communities with strong ties to Syria and its people. But the conflict in Syria halted cross-border trade and employment, leaving the Lebanesewith few resources to spare.
By the summer of 2012, these host communities had largely exhausted their ability to support more people, and Lebanese government funds for refugees had run dangerously low. Syrian refugees continue to arrive through Lebanon’s open border, and aid agencies and NGOs are struggling to meet their needs while supporting the host communities.
Iraqi refugees in Lebanon receive services from the UNHCR, but their long-term situation holds few prospects for self-sufficiency or safe return to Iraq. Refugees in Lebanon are not entitled to work permits, and have to compete with a large population of migrant workers even for illegal employment with sub-standard wages. Iraqis are also vulnerable to detention for being in the country without valid documentation. Iraqi refugees can be resettled out of Lebanon, but the process can be very slow.
Approximately 400,000 Palestinians remain in Lebanon in a dozen camps, some of which have existed for more than 50 years. The rights of Palestinians in Lebanon are limited, and the majority live In dismal living conditions in restricted areas. With little political or economic power, the residents of the camps remain heavily dependent upon humanitarian aid for survival.

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In the spring of 2011, conflict broke out between the Syrian government and opposition groups demanding reforms. Since then, tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed or wounded, and possibly one million have been displaced inside the country. The fighting and destruction continue to spread as the government and rebels struggle for control of the country. As of August 2012, 120,000 Syrians have registered as refugees in neighboring countries, and refugees already in Syria from third countries are being displaced again in growing numbers. Government restrictions on aid agencies working inside Syria limit their ability to provide humanitarian assistance.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Best estimates suggest that up to one million Syrians are internally displaced, while up to 2.5 million inside the country may be vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the country’s main aid provider, but the Syrian government has heavily restricted which organizations may provide aid to whom, and in what form. As a result, the response to those in need has been inadequate even as their numbers grow weekly.
Before the conflict began, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported a large population of registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, primarily in and around Damascus. This population has remained heavily dependent upon humanitarian aid because employment opportunities are few. However, UNHCR has had to cut back its capacity by almost half due to the conflict, leaving some Iraqis without protection and services. About 15,000 Iraqis have fled back to Iraq as of August 2012 and are facing sectarian conflicts back home, as well as a lack of basic services and high unemployment.
Palestinians in Syria also face a difficult choice: to live in danger, or to seek refuge in a nearby country that may not welcome them. There have been reports of Palestinians inside Syria being specifically targeted by both government forces and rebels, as well as simply being caught in the crossfire.  Scores of Palestinians who left for Jordan during 2012 have been held at a transit center on the border, forbidden to enter the country and unable to return to Syria in safety.
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Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and one of the least-developed countries in the world. Following the ouster of long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh in early 2012, the stability of the government and the livelihoods of its citizens remain extremely precarious. Yemen’s population faces a high cost of living, significant unemployment, scarce water resources, and a deepening food crisis. Public services are also largely absent in some areas. Repeated damage to the gas and oil pipelines that provide Yemen with much of its national revenue has led to cuts in subsidies and rising prices for basic commodities. All the while, countrywide armed conflicts – including a secessionist movement in the south – have produced internal displacement on a large scale.
Current Humanitarian Situation
More than 400,000 Yemeni citizens have been displaced internally by conflict between the government and militant groups. The UN and its partners assist many of these IDPs, but unrest periodically restricts humanitarian activities. All of the displaced, however, are dealing with a growing food crisis that has left roughly ten million people food insecure and one million children under five malnourished. Poverty and unemployment – already widespread before the political crisis – continue to worsen, and IDPs’ inability to return home safely has put them in situations even more difficult than those they left behind.
One of the only regional signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Yemen also hosts more than 200,000 refugees – most of whom arrive in mixed migration flows from the Horn of Africa. Thousands of Somalis fleeing conflict and poverty have tried to reach Yemen in the past few years by crossing the Gulf of Aden from the Somali port of Bossaso: a grueling 36-hour boat journey which many do not survive. Once in Yemen, Somali refugees are automatically recognized as needing protection. However, refugees from other countries must go through a formal recognition process that can leave them without protection until a decision is reached. The poor social and economic conditions in Yemen mean that refugees’ needs have grown alongside those of IDPs and the general population, and the scarcity of resources is causing increased hostility toward African refugees in particular.