A delegation of diplomats and aid officials visited Erbil, Iraq 3-5 March 2017 to see first-hand IOM humanitarian projects in response to the ongoing displacement crisis.
Over three million Iraqis have continued to be displaced across Iraq since January 2014. More than 211,000 Iraqis are currently displaced due to Mosul military operations, which began in mid-October 2016, and more than 51,000 have been displaced from West Mosul in the last 10 days. Across the country nearly 500,000 Iraqis are living in critical shelter arrangements (unfinished buildings, informal settlements, religious buildings and schools).
In response to ongoing displacement and humanitarian needs, IOM is assisting displaced families and affected communities through the provision of emergency response services including non-food item kits, shelter, primary health care, psychosocial assistance, displacement tracking, livelihoods assistance and light infrastructure projects. In 2016, more than 1.2 million Iraqis received assistance from IOM.
In speaking with families at an informal shelter site, an abandoned government building in Erbil, the visiting donor representatives learned more about the challenges faced by displaced Iraqis. Ismael, a father of four, explained his family’s situation:
“We were displaced in 2014 from Bashiqa, Ninewa governorate, when ISIL attacked our area. One of my daughters was wounded by four bullets during the attack. We managed to get her to Erbil and provide her with medical care. Another one of my daughters is still having psychosocial issues due to the trauma of seeing her sister wounded and covered in blood.”
“When we first arrived in Erbil, we had not heard much about camps, so we started looking for a place to stay and we found this building that had no doors, windows, electricity or running water,” Ismael continued. “We prefer this to being in a camp, because here we have freedom of movement and also occasional access to daily paid work opportunities. The children do not go to school, because there are no Arabic schools nearby and they do not understand Kurdish.”
Visiting representatives of IOM donor countries, including Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Germany and New Zealand – and a locally based representative of South Korea, visited this and another informal site on the grounds of a school, where IOM is providing Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) services such as on-job training, shelter upgrades (electricity, windows, doors, water tank, plastic sheeting, plumbing) and other items including first aid kits, hygiene kits and fire extinguishers.
The representatives also visited projects, including an IOM medical clinic in Debaga camp for displaced Iraqis, and psychosocial support services at informal shelter sites. At Hikma School in Erbil they viewed a hybrid solar power system, installed through IOM’s Community Assistance Projects, which provides infrastructure support for communities hosting large numbers of displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees. The donors also learned about the situation of Iraqis who chose to return to Iraq from Europe through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss said: “Entering the fourth year of the ongoing conflict, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq continues, now with displacement from West Mosul. As we continue to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable Iraqis, ongoing support is needed. We are pleased to welcome our donors and partner representatives to see the situation in Iraq first hand, as we work together to provide the lifesaving assistance required.”
Delegation member Paivi Laing, Finland’s Ambassador to Iraq said: “I am a person who reads a lot about what is going on in the Middle East, but to come here and see how displaced persons living in the camps, and how IOM and other agencies are assisting them is just eye opening. It was important for us to hear from displaced Iraqis about their experiences and personal stories of displacement. We understand that the cause of displacement is not over yet, as we know that where we are now is probably only one hour from ISIL. So these families really need assistance, somebody has to do the job to help them; it is very interesting to see how IOM is in doing that in practice.”