Last updated 28 November 2016

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The Kurdish Region of Iraq hosts the vast majority of the 251,499 Syrian refugees currently in Iraq (UNHCR, July 2015), but with the current turmoil in the country the burden on the region is increasingly high. In light of the overwhelming crisis, some international humanitarian organisations are scaling down their assistance to Syrian refugees in the country.

Over the past year, the spread of violence across Iraq has led some Syrian refugees to return to Syria. The population of Domiz refugee camp (Dohuk governorate) has significantly reduced over the past year due to large movements of people. Today, the camp's population is estimated to be around 38,392 (UNCHR, October 2016).


The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, as people displaced from their homes by violence face their third summer living in harsh conditions. Meanwhile more people are being forced to flee their homes to escape renewed fighting.

The humanitarian crisis is being fuelled by the conflict in the region, and compounded by political instability and a severe economic crisis, which is further eroding Iraq’s fragile infrastructure and crumbling services, already weakened by years of violence.

The number of people affected by the ongoing conflict continues to rise, with more than 3.3 million Iraqis now displaced throughout the country, causing an increasing strain on already destitute host communities. In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan is hosting a further 250,000 refugees who fled Syria from 2012 onwards.

People’s humanitarian needs are most urgent in the areas outside Iraqi Kurdistan, but the international response in these areas is severely hampered by a very volatile security situation. In addition, state actors have mainly focused on carrying out military – rather than humanitarian – interventions, resulting in yet more people being displaced from densely populated areas.

In those areas which have been retaken by Iraqi forces, including Tikrit, Diyala, Ramadi and parts of Ninewa governorate, displaced people are being encouraged to return to their homes. However, most towns and villages suffered high levels of destruction during the conflict and now basic services are only partially covered, while reconstruction is not yet underway.

For displaced people living in unstable areas, often close to the frontlines, accessing healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult. Travel through highly militarised areas requires a permit, while hospitals throughout government-controlled areas are now charging patients to access their services, putting them beyond the reach of people who have lost their livelihoods, cannot find work or have exhausted their savings.

MSF has been steadily increasing its response, with teams of both Iraqi and international staff working in a growing number of locations across 11 governorates to provide free-of-charge basic healthcare, mental health services and essential relief items to displaced families, returnees, impoverished host communities and Syrian refugees.

MSF is using a flexible approach which allows it to deploy mobile medical teams according to population movements and people’s needs, with a focus on those who cannot access medical care because their movements are restricted or because they lack the financial means to travel or pay for services. Our medical teams can also provide patients with crucial referral documents for hospital treatment to enable them to travel through highly militarised areas.

MSF is also increasing its capacity to provide mental health first aid to a growing number of patients who have been traumatised by recurrent violence and who have been surviving in harsh conditions for months and even years at a time, as well as living in fear and facing an uncertain future.

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Activities  2015 International Activity Report

In 2015, MSF expanded its activities to provide basic healthcare and relief to displaced families, returnees, impoverished host communities and Syrian refugees in locations across 11 governorates: Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Diyala, Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala and Babil.

Throughout these governorates, MSF deployed mobile clinics to deliver medical care to those unable to reach health facilities due to movement restrictions and security risks. The teams visited a number of locations regularly, basing themselves in clinics, tents and even buses. In highly militarised areas, doctors provided referral documents to ensure safe passage for patients requiring treatment at secondary care facilities. MSF teams also monitored possible disease outbreaks.

Most of the health problems seen by MSF staff were related to people’s poor living conditions, and included respiratory and urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis and skin diseases. MSF also focused on chronic diseases, particularly hypertension and diabetes, and mother and child health. Female medical staff were present to encourage women to attend clinics.

Read more about MSF's activities in Iraq in 2015.

Year MSF first worked in the country: 2003.

2015 Key figures
Outpatient consultations 218,300
Individual and group mental health consultations 20,700
Relief kits distributed 12,500
No. staff in 2015 547
2015 Expenditure €31.0 million

Figures from 2015 International Activity Report
and 2015 International Financial Report

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