Refugees of Iraq are Iraqi nationals who have fled Iraq due to war or persecution. Throughout the past 30 years, there have been a growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and settling throughout the world, peaking recently with the latest Iraq War. Precipitated by a series of conflicts including the Kurdish rebellions during the Iran–Iraq War (1980 to 1988), Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait (1990) and the Gulf War (1991), the subsequent sanctions against Iraq, and culminating in the violence during and after the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, millions have been forced by insecurity to flee their homes in Iraq. Unlike most refugees, Iraqi refugees have established themselves in urban areas in other countries rather than in refugee camps. In April 2007, there was an estimate of over 4 million Iraqi refugees around the world, including 1.9 million in Iraq, 2 million in neighboring Middle East countries, and around 200,000 in countries outside the Middle East. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has led the humanitarian efforts for Iraqi refugees. The Iraqi displacement of several million is the largest in the Middle East, and is much larger than the number of Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel.
Iraqi refugee populations face unique challenges, particularly since they are located in urban centers rather than in refugee camps. Access to public services like health care and education is very limited for refugees. In late 2007, less than 40% of Iraqi refugee children attended school. In many host countries, education is offered free of charge to all children, including refugees. However, the cost of books, uniforms, and a lack of inexpensive transportation prevents many Iraqi refugee children from actually attending school. There is little data available on the health status of Iraqi refugees, but limited reports indicate that they suffer worse health than that of their host populations. Psychological health care is especially crucial yet lacking, as many Iraqis suffer psychologically as a result of witnessing extreme violence. The current lack of health care contrasts greatly to the high-quality and accessible health services offered in Iraq before the 2003 invasion.
On April 17, 2007 an international conference on the Iraqi refugee crisis began in Geneva, Switzerland. Attendees included Human Rights Watch representatives, US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives and members of 60 other Non-Governmental Organizations. The World Health Organization began a two-day conference in Damascus, Syria, on July 29, 2007. The conference addressed the health requirements of the more than two million refugees from Iraq. Aside from the WHO, participants in the conference included the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and various UN agencies. On September 18, 2007, the UNHCR, WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and WFP launched an appeal for $84.8 million to help host countries meet health and nutrition needs of Iraqi refugees. The funds support clinics, facilities, medicines, and medical supplies. In 2007, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, UN agencies, and NGOs assisting Iraqi refugees received about $60 million to better provide for Iraqi refugee populations. $27 million was allocated to health care as part of the UN joint health appeal. As of 2007, the US has pledged $18 million and the European Union has pledged 50 million euros to assist Iraqi refugees.