International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The IRC sheds light on Syrian urban refugees as tens of thousands pour into Iraq

White Paper focuses on ‘hidden refugees’ in cities and towns struggling to survive outside camps

More than 40,000 Syrian refugees have surged into northern Iraq in recent days, swelling the total number of displaced people in Iraq to 200,000. While many find comparatively safe haven in humanitarian camps, almost two-thirds, or more than 130,000, are living as “urban refugees” without support from relief agencies.

A just-published International Rescue Committee white paper, “Hidden But Hopeful,” examines the plight of these hidden refugees in Iraq and elsewhere. Unprecedented numbers of displaced Syrians are packing into city apartments with other families to reduce rental costs. Some live in abandoned buildings or unfinished construction projects. All compete for the same limited resources as their host community neighbors, increasing shortages of water, electricity and health care, as well as competition for jobs and education.

Sarah Case, author of the white paper, warns that the needs of this new urban population are becoming more acute as the Syrian crisis drags into its third year. “They are the hidden refugees in this crisis,” says Case, Regional Advocacy Officer. “They are essentially invisible. And while they comprise the vast majority of the refugee population, their most basic needs remain unmet.”

The disparity in aid levels between camp-based and urban refugees has reached alarming levels, writes Case, pointing out that Iraq hosts 10 percent of the entire refugee population (close to two million people) but receives only 6 percent of overall funding. She outlines proposals for addressing the inequity and calls for an innovative response that allows refugees to contribute to the social and economic of Iraq, improving their own lives in the process.

The IRC white paper urges Syrian neighbors to maintain open borders, but calls upon the international community to support these host countries, which have seen their populations swell by as much as 20 percent due to the refugee influx.

Read the full report.

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