With IDP camp closure looming, Duhok residents worry about impact on jobs

18-06-2024 01:43

Peregraf- Ammar Aziz

Many days, Hamid Zebari returns home empty-handed after not finding work on construction sites in Duhok. He and other day laborers in the city face competition from refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are willing to work for lower wages.

"Whenever we want to start working, there is always a refugee or IDP, from shoe-shining to driving a taxi," Zebari, 45, told Peregraf. "The refugees do not pay for water, electricity, or taxes. They are not under as much pressure as we are."

There are approximately 258,000 refugees and and 84,000 IDPs who live in the vicinity of Duhok city. About half of the IDPs live in camps and many are Yezidis. Most have been in the area for more than a decade.

Zebari said that jobs are scarce in the Kurdistan Region as the economy has struggled, but that the situation in Duhok is particularly bad. The governorate has the highest unemployment rate in the semi-autonomous region, according to the federal Ministry of Planning, followed by Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. It also has the highest poverty rate.

"We leave home to work, but often we come back empty-handed," he said.

Saber Musa, who is from Duhok, told Peregraf of similar problems. His full-time job is as a Peshmerga, but his salary is not enough to meet his needs, so he takes other jobs on the side.

"The refugees and IDPs have certainly had a big impact on people's lives, especially in terms of finding jobs. Most of them work in construction and, therefore, it is difficult for us to find jobs," Musa said.

He has no doubt that there is unemployment in the Kurdistan Region, but believes that the problem will be largely alleviated if refugees and IDPs return home.

"In the place where day laborers gather, the majority of people who find work are refugees and IDPs," Musa said.

The federal government has declared that all of the IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region must close by the end of July. IDP families will each be given 4 million Iraqi dinars as an incentive to return to their places of origin. However, it is not clear how many will actually go back.

Shamoun Shilimon, Duhok’s deputy governor for administrative affairs, told Peregraf that "the political and security situation in Sinjar and Syria is not stable for the refugees to return to their areas. It is true that the federal government has decided to return the refugees, but we have not seen any practical steps so far."

Shilimon also stressed that no displaced people will be forcibly returned. He promised that the Duhok provincial government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will address their needs.

Like his counterparts in the non-displaced population, Sherzad Ido also has trouble finding work. He is from Sinjar and has been displaced for nearly ten years. His family lives in the Sheikhan displacement camp, but he stays in a hotel in Duhok city while looking for work to cut down on transportation costs.

"I work for 10,000 to 20,000 Iraqi dinars per day, but I can't find a job many days," Ido told Peregraf.

"We want to return [to Sinjar], but under certain conditions," Ido explained. He said that the security situation must stabilize and public services like water, electricity, and roads must be in place before he goes back. Much of the infrastructure in the district was destroyed during the war against Islamic State (ISIS).

Syrian Kurdish refugees are similarly wary about returning home because of instability and difficult economic conditions across the border in northeastern Syria.

During a speech on June 6, KRG Minister of Interior Rebar Ahmed said that Erbil is concerned about Baghdad’s push to close the IDP camps because plans for what to do about the people living there are not fully formed. He argued that this will spark a wave of informal migration to Europe.

"The Kurdistan Region will not be part of the forced return of the refugees. That’s their choice to make," Ahmad added, referring to federal officials.

According to official statistics, expenditures for IDPs and Syrian refugees living in the Kurdistan Region runs to more than $2 million per day, with about $800 million required annually to provide for their needs. In the past, international organizations contributed large amounts of funding, but this is gradually disappearing as aid is redirected to more recent conflict areas.

Pir Diyan Jaafar, the KRG’s director of migration and crisis response, told Peregraf that "no one has registered to return based on the Iraqi government's decision."

"Some responsibilities in the camps are undertaken completely by the KRG, including health, electricity, and many other issues," she said.

"We will not return many people and we will serve them as long as they are here."