Assistance to displaced persons and returnees in northern and central Iraq
Displacement crisis in Iraq
The war against the Islamic State in Iraq has displaced millions of Iraqis within their country. The extremely violent conflicts have lasted three long years. The population of Ninewa province, whose capital, Mosul, has been the scene of violent clashes, was one of the main victims of this displacement. Other provinces, such as Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk, have suffered from prolonged occupation by the Islamic State, also resulting in significant population movements. The people who have returned to their home now need help to re-establish their live. HEKS has been providing emergency assistance to displaced people in Iraq since 2014.
With the number of displacements and the lack of support for returning families, Iraq has become one of the most troubled countries in the world. Many of the displaced persons would be willing to return to their villages, but are unable to do so because the infrastructure has been destroyed. In addition, there is constant possibility of further displacement. Although the Iraqi government is currently doing its utmost to encourage displaced people to return to their home, many families at risk cannot return without external assistance.
In February 2018, HEKS assessed the need for assistance in Ninewa province, along the old border. In this region, projects were focusing on rebuilding damaged or demolished infrastructure and restoring livelihoods, so that the most vulnerable families have sources of income again. The aim was also to promote the social cohesion of the different groups of the population.
Between August 2018 and April 2019, HEKS supported the people of Felfel (Ninewa) through cash for work programs and conducted mine risk awareness sessions.
In December 2018, a project was launched in the town of Al Ayadia so that those needed to be protected could return home safely. HEKS has also built 113 shelters in collaboration with Better Shelter, which specializes in temporary housing for displaced people. Families have already settled in these dwellings, which can accommodate up to five people.
In 2019, particularly vulnerable families in the small towns of Ba'aj and Rabia in Ninewa province received remuneration for their work under the Cash for work programs and were supported with accommodation. In addition, sanitation facilities and water treatment infrastructures have been renovated, providing access to safe drinking water. Finally, seeds and agricultural equipment were offered to peasant families so that they could resume their activities and thus guarantee their livelihoods.
In 2020, HEKS distributed cash assistance to 110 particularly vulnerable host community families in Kirkuk region. Each household received 200 US-Dollars. Cash assistance covers part of specific needs of families: access to health care, support payment of rent for their home, payment of school supplies, clothing and food.
In February 2021 and again in June 2021, an HEKS team visited Tuz Khurmatu and Amerli districts, north of Baghdad, to assess the urgent needs of returnees and the measures to be put in place to assist them. There, the need to access water, medical health care and education is enormous, as well as the need of reconstruction. Houses have been ravaged and infrastructure is no longer standing. Families barely have enough to live on.
Seeds and technical support
As agriculture is one of the main sources of income in Iraq, in general, people who have been displaced several times are the main victims of conflicts, as they lack agricultural resources. «Before we were displaced, we sow up to a tonne of seeds every year,» proudly explains a family of beneficiaries of HEKS’s agricultural support program. Last year, due to lack of rain, the family lost almost all their crops. So they had little money to continue planting.
Since March 2021, HEKS has been offering wheat, barley, maize and sesame seeds to returnee families, as well as fertilizers, quality pesticides, and technical support. This allows them to strengthen their autonomy and develop sustainable strategies to overcome difficulties. Although most families already have considerable experience in agriculture, they need constant support to increase their productivity and control the shelf life of their food. They are therefore supported by local agronomists who have solid knowledge of agriculture.
Legal support to access aid
In addition to these agriculture-related activities, HEKS offers legal assistance to displaced persons and returnees. This allows them to obtain civil documentation (often lost or missing), thus improving access to various services and potential governmental aids. The legal support offered by the HEKS aims to assist people throughout the required procedure.
Facilitating the return to school
Recently, and following the assessment carried out at the beginning of the summer, HEKS has engaged in education-related activities. Indeed, the combined impact of years of conflict, protracted displacement and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the Iraqi population, preventing an entire generation of children from accessing education. Due to the pandemic, schools were closed from March to September 2020 and then again in February 2021. This has only exacerbated learning gaps, leading more children to drop out of school and causing a worrying drop in literacy rates among the most vulnerable. A staggering 7.4 million children have not been able to continue their learning. In addition, the government's lack of investment in school infrastructure, combined with the socio-economic vulnerability of displaced people and returnees in rural areas of Tuz Khurmatu and Amerli districts, is jeopardizing the safe reopening of schools in the context of an ongoing pandemic. HEKS intervenes to promote safe return to school and allow targeted affected children to follow remedial classes that will allow them to catch up.
In Iraq, there will still be much to do in the coming years. HEKS will remain on site to help the population, implement other projects and enable families to live in dignity.