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Life in the Camps

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Those people who fled the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq lived in a variety of dwellings. Some lived in “caravans,” boxes the size of a shipping container. Others lived in tent camps. Still others lived in unofficial makeshift shelters set up in abandoned buildings. The majority who fled lived in rented homes or in the houses of friends and family.

The Kurdistan Regional Government provided the displaced Iraqis with physical protection, and because many residents of Iraqi Kurdistan once were displaced themselves, they welcomed the newcomers. The United Nations estimates that about 869,000 displaced Iraqis (PDF) lived in Iraqi Kurdistan at the time, or about 17 percent of the region’s population of 5.2 million. For the most part, the displaced Iraqis live off savings, humanitarian assistance, and occasional work.

Human resilience abounds. A woman proudly shows off the kitchen she has set up in the corner of her family’s caravan. A girl plays on a makeshift swing. A father teaches his young son how to pray.

Posters around the camps demonstrate that caring for displaced persons has become a well-rehearsed routine. The posters illustrate fire safety and the importance of avoiding unfamiliar objects—which could be improvised explosive devices—upon returning home. On camp signs are the logos of global nations and organizations that are assisting in the response. The United States contributed $155 million in humanitarian funding to Iraq in 2021, according to the US State Department (external link), and with more than $3 billion provided in humanitarian assistance since 2014, remains the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance in Iraq.