Gates Is Finally Paying Attention to Iraqi Refugees

The Gates Foundation has three types of grants awarded out of its Emergency Response program: rapid-onset, slow-onset, and complex. Rapid and slow onset emergency grants are often awarded in response to sudden natural disasters like hurricanes, and slowly building disasters like droughts. The Emergency Response program also makes grants for disease related emergencies such as the recent Ebola outbreak.

But it’s the complex emergency grants we’re concerned with here, or in other words, the grants that are reserved for responding to emergencies resulting from conflicts often involving political and military action.

Related: Gates Foundation: Fundraising for Disasters & Refugees

In the past, the foundation has paid a lot of attention to conflict areas like Sudan, the Central African Republic, Darfur, and Libya. It’s even supported refugee efforts in Gaza and Pakistan, so we know it isn’t afraid to dive into politically polarized nations that have endured years of conflict. Iraq certainly qualifies as such a country. But to date, Gates has paid very little attention to Iraq, having awarded one $5 million grant back in 2007 to help “preserve the intellectual capital of Iraq by rescuing Iraqi scholars,” and until now, the foundation has awarded zero dollars to the growing Iraqi refugee crisis.

The Gates Foundation awarded Mercy Corps a one-year, $600,000 grant in support of the organization’s ongoing emergency response work with Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. We aren’t criticizing Gates’ lack of funding attention for Iraq. We’re just saying that for a foundation that has a program geared specifically for conflict areas, it’s been a bit slow on the uptake in Iraq—especially since this particular grant came out its Emergency Response program, which has been around since 1999.

Gates has been funding complex emergencies from the outset of its Emergency Response program, beginning with a $500,000 grant to CARE to provide immediate relief for refugees in Kosovo. Since then, the foundation has dedicated around 25 percent of its emergency response funding to various conflict crises around the world, typically making less than $20 million in related grants annually. However, that number can go up as emergency situations warrant. For example, Gates awarded $45 million to multiple types of work aimed at containing Ebola.

As far as the foundation’s refugee related funding is concerned, it doesn’t typically exceed $5 million annually, regardless of the number of conflicts occurring around the world or the ever-growing global refugee population.

The refugee crisis in Iraq isn't getting any better. Current estimates put over 8 million Iraqi refugees in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. That number could grow to over 10 milion within the next six months. Gates does have a penchant for increasing its funding as emergency situtations become more dire, as it did with Ebola. We're keeping a close watch to see if that's what happens in this situation.