Cultivating Refuge: the Role of Urban Agriculture Amongst Refugees and Forced Migrants in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Cultivating Refuge: the Role of Urban Agriculture Amongst Refugees and Forced Migrants in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

M. Tomkins S. Yousef A. Adam-bradford C. Perkins E. Grosrenaud M. Mctough A. Viljoen

School of Architecture and Design, University of Brighton, UK.

Department of Recreation and Ecotourism, College of Agriculture, University of Duhok, Iraq.

Botany and Modelling of Plant Architecture and Vegetation (AMAP), Université de Montpellier, France.

Centre for Agroforestry, Water and Resilience, Coventry University, UK.

Southern Methodist University, Dallas, US, 6 United Nations Development Programme, Iraq.

Available online: 
| Citation



Refugee camps are born out of chaos and crisis, characterised as short-term responses with little in the way of planning for long-term living. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that within protracted refugee situations, all too often these camps morph into ‘accidental cities’, where an accelerated everyday urbanism transforms tents into streets lined with self-built homes. Within the camps of northern Iraq, displaced Syrian refugees are finding innovative ways to incorporate urban agriculture and agroforestry into these unintended but now permanent settlements. Largely unsupported and often in conflict with the initial disaster response planning for camps, Urban Agriculture (UA) flourishes at a household level, providing access to fresh food, healing spaces from trauma, and creative place-making practices. Using lessons learnt from three years of practical fieldwork developing and supporting UA in camps located in northern Iraq, this paper demonstrates that with or without institutional support home gardens emerge at every stage of camp development as a vital yet little-discussed and even less planned practice. The paper argues that refugee settlements, home to millions worldwide, need to be seen as both urban and permanent, with home gardening and agriculture as a core response at the point of crisis, or risk developing, by default, into unsustainable – slum-like – cities of the future.


Ethnobotany, greening innovation, home gardens, Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan, agroforestry, refugee camps, SuDS, urban agriculture.


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