This is a sample question from Pedro in Madrid.

Avatar2I’m preparing a story on internal refugees in Iraq. What is the best data source (most up-to-date, complete and reliable) that I can refer to on that issue? Who produces it and how does it compare to other sources? I’m more specifically interested in finding the geographic coordinates of internal refugees to produce a map with a service like Datawrapper.

This is a sample answer from Nadia in Amman.

Nadia ShiyyabI found that the International Organization for Migration is your best source of data on internal migrations in Iraq. From there, I downloaded and used a spreadsheet to produce a map. Let me walk you through how I did it.


1) Clarify the initial question

Your question is clear. I will first focus on finding the most authoritative source to answer it and will quickly show you how to map the data that I find with DataWrapper (a cool tool indeed!).


2) Choose proper keywords

IDPs from Iraq (source: a quick search using “internal refugees” (in quotes because I’m looking for this precise expression with ‘internal’ and ‘refugees’ side by side), I realize  that most studies, statistics, factsheets, and news released by international organizations & governments use the acronym ‘IDP’ or ‘internally displaced persons’ for people who flee their home but remain within the borders of their own country. Other important keywords I can think of are ‘Iraq’, ‘data’ and ‘map’.

3) Draft a powerful query

Here’s the query that I use: Iraq (“internally displaced persons” OR IDP OR “internal refugees”) data. Note that…

  • the order in which you enter keywords is important (try putting ‘Iraq’ at the end and you will not get the exact same results);
  • I used the ‘OR’ operator (in capital letters) between the synonyms to get pages that will contain either one of those 3 terms;
  • I put synonyms between parenthesis to facilitate reading but there is actually no need to use them (the results are the same with or without parenthesis);
  • I used IDP and not ‘IDPs’ because the singular (IDP) will get results with ‘IDPs’ but not the opposite (writing a word in its plural form is interpreted as meaning that you are looking for this precise spelling);
  • I used ‘data’ as a keyword because I guess that relevant pages are most likely to contain this word.


4) Verify & compare your results

The first page of results lists a few potential sources of data on IDPs in Iraq.

search1a) The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) presents itself in its “About us” page as “the leading source of information and analysis on internal displacement worldwide”. It is operated by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). A quick glance through its website leads to an Iraq IDP Figures Analysis page that says that IDMC figures are ‘based on estimates published by IOM and the UN’.

b) The well-known UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has a page dedicated to its activities in Iraq.
It started doing studies and compiling statistics on IDPs in January 2014. It produces a factsheet with updated information on different refugee categories (IDPs, Asylum seekers, Non-Syrian).

c) The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), another UN agency, has a dedicated general page for Iraq where it lists the IOM as its source of data.

d) The International Organization for Migration (IOM) looks very promising. The link goes to a dedicated website for Iraq with a ‘Displacement Tracking Matrix’ that seems to provide everything you’re looking for: ‘The DTM continually tracks and monitors displacement across Iraq allowing IOM to identify the locations to which IDPs have chosen to settle‘.

e) Refugees International is an independent advocacy organization that doesn’t produce IDP data.

Your question is about the primary source of data on IDPs in Iraq (the most up-to-date, complete and reliable). In other words, we need to determine what is the main source of the figures produced on Iraqi IDPs.

The UNHCR and the IOM are leading international agencies when it comes to producing data on refugees and migration flows. Although the difference between the two is not that clear (in short, the UNHCR deals with refugee protection and asylum and IOM with logistical and other practical services), after spending a few minutes visiting the above pages, it becomes obvious that the IOM is your answer.

Tip: another way to evaluate the credibility of a data source is to look at how many times it is refered to and what organizations link to it on the web. There is a simple way to do it with Google: just enter

[linkto:] immediately followed by the address of the page or the website that you want to check. Try and it will confirm the above.


5) Download the data and visualize it with DataWrapper

search3The latest sheet released by IOM named “DTM : IDP Master List” can be downloaded from the homepage.

Data are collected though IOM’s Rapid Assessment and Response Teams composed of 140 staff members deployed across Iraq.

The file lists specific data on the status and location (geographic coordinates) of displaced persons across Iraq. This data is classified per categories like number of IDPs as individuals, families, governorate of origin, period of displacement and shelter category over time. I simply used the number of individual IDPs & their geographical distribution.

Here is the map I could generate with Datawrapper. It is quite basic (see as a comparison the map produced by the IOM).

And here is a step by step description of how you can draw a similar map using Datawrapper. It has no voice-over but you can pause and rewind if you think it goes too fast. Let me know what you think and good luck with your story!