This is the ninth case study from SUEUAA (Strengthening Urban Engagement in Universities in Asia and Africa), written by Professor Kamal Ketuly of the University of Duhok. SUEUAA is interested in how Universities in the Global South can contribute to solving geographical, economic and social issues in their cities. The project is looking at six cities in six different countries: Harare (Zimbabwe), Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), Johannesburg (South Africa), Manilla (Philippines), Duhok (Iraq), and Sanandaj (Iran). The SUEUAA project involves academics from each of these cities, who will be carrying out fieldwork, and elite interviews with decision makers in the city and senior academics from local Universities, to better understand the ability of Universities to respond to city issues.

In this ninth case study, we look at how the Universities in Duhok support migrants, including internal and external refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  

In recent times, the Duhok province of Iraq has experienced significant population change caused in part through movements of internally and externally displaced people. Since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011, and the ISIS terrorist attacks, and subsequent occupation of territories in Northern and Western regions of the countries, in 2014 in Iraq, Duhok has seen approximately 1.15 million migrants, including refugees[1], and IDPs[2] (internally displaced persons) enter the province. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) refers to these groups as ‘populations of concern’.

The swift expansion of the province’s population over a relatively short time period has created a humanitarian crisis. Like other countries, the majority of these migrant groups live in towns and cities. This clustering has led to a strain being put on financial, health, education, and housing services. The shortage in available housing has led to the creation of informal settlements or IDP camps. According to CCCM Settlement Status Report of UNHCR in Dec 2015, the number of IDPs camps in Kurdistan Region and Iraq are 26 and 51 camps respectively. Out of these figures; 18 camps are in Duhok. Therefore, the percentage of camps in Duhok is 70% and 35% of the total IDPs camps in the Kurdistan and Iraq respectively. One of the largest camps created in Duhok was Domiz camp (about 15min drive from University of Duhok, UoD).

While the Duhok government has allocated a sufficient budget for infrastructure and basic services in Refugees camps for shelter, water, health, sanitation, and education, addressing the needs of the migrant populations within Duhok has also required intervention from Local Government, UN agencies such as UNHCR, international NGOs, and other humanitarian agencies to cover the basic needs of these populations. Universities in the province offer additional support to this population in several ways, particularly for those migrants who wish to continue with their studies, or those wishing to develop skills to aid their employability. 

The Iraqi Kurdistan region’s Ministry of Higher Education (MHE) and their public universities have had to take an active and challenging emergency role to face these large numbers of IDPs, refugees and migrants by providing additional space, facilities, materials, staff and continuing education for these students. For example, migrant children (6-18 years) are provided with programs to support the continuation of their school education. They are also provided with the appropriate education materials such as stationary, books and clothes. This is made possible through the KRG Ministry of Education in collaboration with international NGOs and UNICEF.

Over-18s can continue with their education though MHE programs for the migrants and refugees. Examples of these are detailed below (1).

The MHE has established two special education programs: one is called Astathafa (‘guest student’) and the second one for those who wish to continue their university courses to obtain their university degree. In the Astathafa program, students will continue their studies from the time which they had to leave their home country; this could be for maximum of 1-2 academic years.  Many of the students from Mosul University were accepted as guest students along with many staff members of the University. The migrant students from neighbouring countries (i.e Syria, Iran and Turkey) will be accepted to continue their studies with the same course as previously studied in their own country. They then follow the curriculum of the University they now attend leading possibly to further subjects of study.  On completion of their course they will be awarded their certificates from UoD or DPU or any other public universities in the country (2,3,4).  

In the schools and public universities, such as University of Duhok (UoD) and Duhok Polytechnic University (DPU), there are special Kurdish language courses for migrants, refugees and IDPs and programs on the local Kurdish culture; this includes costumes, history, geography, tourist places, local foods, and local national Kurdish celebration, festivals and Kurdish music and songs. The local NGO’s inform the migrants and refugees about these courses and programs. Most importantly the migrants are given the freedom to mix with the local Kurdish people to practice and learn the language and the culture, creating an environment for them to be able to study, work and build their life there (5,6). 

Alongside educational extension programmes, Universities ae also supporting migrant populations with access to services and resources. For example, the college of Engineering at the University of Duhok coordinates their civil engineering programs with Duhok city authorities in the development of water irrigation water supply from Duhok and Mosul Dams, river purification and distribution systems, and waste water treatment. They have extended the pure water supply and waste water treatment to support the IDPs and refugee camps. Also, the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Nursing at the University of Duhok coordinated with Duhok city health authorities to provide health services and protection for the IDPs, mainly from Mosul and the Syrian refugees and to the Kurdish fighters (Peshmerge), These efforts are still on-going.

In education, the College of Basic Education at the University of Duhok has developed programs to actively support refugees in the following areas: training courses for IDPs and refugees’ children and courses for Trauma and Psychological Rehabilitation. Academic staff in Psychology, in coordination with German Universities, travel to Germany in a cycle of two staff members for three months.  They go to the refugee camps there and conduct rehabilitation programs. German academics, in turn, visit University of Duhok and stay for a period of 2-4 weeks. In partnership with German humanitarian agencies, once a week a group of University of Duhok undergraduate Psychology students go to the IDPs and refugee camps in Duhok and they conduct rehabilitation and psychology programs in the area (1, 5). The importance and the needs for these activities has led to the establishment of the institute for Psychotherapy and Psychotherapy at University of Duhok (7).




[1] individuals recognised under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

[2] people or groups of individuals who have been forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights, or natural or man-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border.