Bolstering self-reliance for refugees and the displaced in Iraq

Iraqis at work
Murad, an internally dispaced Iraqi, took a short-term opportunity to build an underground canal for waste water in Khanke camps, Dohuk, Iraq.

For Murad, 41, a father of seven, the worst part of being internally displaced was to endure being jobless for more than six months.

“In the Sinjar, I had a house and a job; I was transporting passengers,” he said. “When I was forced to flee in August 2014, the militants had taken everything we had.”


  • 2,360 displaced persons in camps earned temporary income in cash-for-work activities.
  • 400 women received cash-for-work for health-related awareness activities in distribution centers.
  • 14,000 displaced Iraqis, Syrian refugees and host community members benefited from business and job creation in 2014
  • US$11.7 million earmarked for livelihood support over 2 years, of which $5.3 million was disbursed in small grants to non-government organizations.

Many Iraqis fleeing from areas of conflict, like Murad and his family, have sought security in Kurdistan and other regions of Iraq, including Baghdad and the southern city of Basra. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq itself hosts 970,000 internally displaced persons and 245,000 Syrian refugees.

In the face of Iraq's humanitarian emergency, with three million displaced persons, UNDP engaged with several local non-government organizations (NGOs) such as KURDS, ACTED and the Danish Refugee Council, to offer temporary employment schemes, particularly for public works improving basic camp infrastructure.

After settling his family in Dohuk, Murad began looking for work. “We are tens of thousands seeking any kind of manual labour in [this] Governorate,” he said. Then UNDP’s local partner, KURDS, offered short-term opportunities to some displaced workers for building an underground canal for waste water in one of the camps. “This job is like a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Cash-for-work is an essential component of relief and early recovery efforts, which helps vulnerable families earn much needed cash through temporary community work. While most jobs involve manual labour and thus employ men, their entire families benefit from the short-term income they bring in.

In 2014, basic training in masonry, plumbing and electricity, followed by cash-for-work activities, provided temporary income to 2,360 displaced persons in camps in Kurdistan. They helped build camp infrastructure such as shelters, bathrooms and sewage systems. Additionally, 400 women received cash-for-work in health-related awareness activities at distribution centers in camps.

On the medium term

With the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNDP is spearheading resilience approaches to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis rebuild their livelihood and become more self-reliant in the medium term.

Internally displaced IraqisInternally displaced Iraqis participate in a cash-for-work program in Baharka camp, Erbil, Iraq.

Employment and income generation are important, so that people are able to take care of themselves, feeling ownership over their lives and becoming less dependent on handouts.

With the Danish Refugee Council and UNHCR, UNDP conducted an Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis in Kurdistan, to inform these resilience approaches and better understand how refugees can fit in the local job market in Iraq.

Vocational training and cash grants have bolstered entrepreneurship and job creation for displaced persons, Syrian refugees and host communities reaching to 14,000 people in total.  In Basra, job skills trainings and a new market helped 1,000 displaced persons restart their lives, one third of which are women.

Competition in labor markets can cause hostility and tensions between displaced persons, refugees and host communities. To address the stress on social cohesion, UNDP has earmarked US$11.7 million for livelihood support through local organizations over two years.

UNDP granted 18 local NGOs of small fund grants – in total US$5.3 million – to deliver vocational trainings and help create jobs and small businesses such as repair shops, bakeries, restaurants, barber and beauty shops, carpentry and electricity workshops serving both the displaced people and host communities.

These initiatives are all part of UNDP in Iraq’s “Crisis Response and Resilience Programme”, funded by the Governments of Japan, Kuwait, and an emergency fund from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia via the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which also provided a contribution from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Stabilization sits at the heart of the United Nations efforts in Iraq. UNDP now plans additional support to central and local authorities for the rehabilitation of basic social infrastructure, particularly in those areas where the return of displaced people is possible.

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