Cities as a Refuge, Cities as a Home: The Relationship between Place and Perceptions of Integration among Urban Displaced Populations in Iraq

Roger Guiu and Nadia Siddiqui

Background paper for the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019


Cities in Iraq have absorbed the majority of IDPs since the beginning of the ISIL conflict in early 2014—at the peak of the conflict only 12 percent of the 3.4 million IDPs settled in camps while 88 percent settled in urban areas. By the end of 2018 there were 1.8 million IDPs, mostly in urban and peri-urban areas. Drawing on panel data from a longitudinal study conducted by IOM and Georgetown University, the authors test whether place (overall physical, cultural, and socio-economic dimensions of the host community) influences the likelihood that IDPs feel integrated. Integration is measured by questions on belonging (whether the respondent felt they belonged to the host community) and influence (whether the respondent felt they had influence in making their host communities a better place to live). The authors find that place factors matter in explaining IDP integration in urban areas. Specifically:

  • IDPs are more likely to feel integrated, when their basic needs are provided, and when they have cultural compatibility with the host community. Movement restrictions and mistrust of host community impact negatively on feelings of belonging (but appear to be disconnected from feelings of influence). Having friendships with local residents and membership into local organizations or groups are found to be positively related with feelings of influence (but disconnected to feeling of belonging). Family ties in host community and safety in displacement appear to be disconnected to either dimension of integration.
  • Higher educational levels are generally associated with positive integration outcomes. IDPs from rural origins or belonging to a national minority are less likely to feel integrated. Owning property elsewhere in Iraq is also negatively correlated with belonging. Lack of personal documentation and living in critical shelter is negatively associated with belonging and influence, respectively. There is no connection between integration and gender of head of household or whether households have savings or not.
  • An IDP who belongs to an ethno-religious group that is present within the subdistrict’s host community, but is not the majority, is less likely to feel integrated, compared to an IDP who is a member of the largest (or only) group in the community.
  • Higher educational attainment and community engagement among the host community is significantly correlated with integration. Additionally, IDPs living in areas with a higher percentage of immigration are more likely to feel strong belonging, while areas that experienced previous waves of displacement are correlated with a higher likelihood of IDPs reporting to have influence. Higher endowment of public services is not significant.
  • Counter intuitively, IDPs in poorer and less developed areas are more likely to feel integrated. This may be due to the fact that these locations tend to be more transient, making it easier to access for newly arriving populations. Lower levels of social trust and lower quality of local institutions are also both significantly associated with a higher likelihood of belonging. This may be because looser social ties and weak institutional capacity may allow IDPs to integrate into the host community with less restriction and oversight. The more fractionalized the subdistrict (more divided into smaller ethno-religious groups), the less likely it is for IDPs to feel a strong sense of belonging.

These findings highlight a seemingly inherent tension: what is initially best for IDPs may not be a status quo that is favorable to the host community. One caveat to these findings is that the data is collected from an IDP population that at the time was displaced for only around 1.5 years. The authors argue that it is critical to improve conditions for all in fragile urban areas where IDPs reside, but it is also imperative to make more stable environments more inclusive to prevent pockets of self-reinforcing fragility.