Northern Iraq: GIZ creates new prospects for people displaced by the ‘Islamic State’

Scarcely larger than the Saarland, the Kurdish province of Dohuk in Northern Iraq is usually home to around 1.4 million people. Over the last 18 months, however, some 700,000 war refugees from Syria and displaced persons from elsewhere in Iraq have arrived here, including members of the Yazidi community. When ‘Islamic State’ militants overran the Yazidis’ villages in Northern Iraq in July 2014, a mass exodus began, with large numbers of people fleeing across the Sinjar Mountains or to the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. There are now 18 large refugee camps in Dohuk, just 20 kilometres from the front where Kurdish forces are fighting the ‘Islamic State’.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Government’s development agency, is working in one of the refugee camps and in six camps for displaced persons. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ has been improving the infrastructure in the camps within the framework of transitional aid since November 2014. The BMZ provided a total of 38 million euros for the first 18 months and increased this figure by a further 15 million euros in December 2015.

The aim is to provide assistance as quickly as possible to the people living in the camps. GIZ is upgrading the water supply in the existing camps and has organised the construction of sewers. It has also recruited engineers and trained refugees to carry out essential maintenance. As a result, 250,000 people are benefiting from improved sanitation.

GIZ is also building schools, as well as health centres to provide basic medical services in the camps. So far, five health centres and 14 schools have been constructed. However, the classrooms are still overcrowded, so the children are being taught in a triple-shift system. There are plans to build more schools to cope with demand.

GIZ has also built six community centres, which offer legal advice for around 20,000 people in the camps. Many had no option but to flee without any of their personal documents, so they now need new copies. The community centres also offer psychosocial support to refugees, many of whom are severely traumatised, and run literacy classes for women. The centres are an important meeting point for around 200,000 people.

However, not all the refugees live in camps: some are accommodated in empty buildings or in apartments in the urban centres in Dohuk province. GIZ is providing support for the host communities to ensure that local people’s living conditions do not worsen dramatically as a result of the influx of refugees. For example, it has helped to improve the health service by expanding two local hospitals and purchasing ambulances. Some of the new arrivals live in semi-finished properties, so GIZ is helping the refugees to winter-proof these buildings using plastic sheeting and timber.

GIZ plans to launch various vocational training projects in early 2016. The aim is to enable refugees to earn their own incomes here in the region and offer them new prospects and skills which will benefit them when they eventually return home.

‘There’s still a lot for us to do,’ says Carl F. Tästensen, GIZ’s Country Director for Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. ‘So far, we have provided support to around 250,000 people. But the refugees need security, jobs and education for their children, and that’s what we are working on now.’

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is a federal enterprise with worldwide operations. It supports the German Government in the fields of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education. GIZ helps individuals and societies to develop their own prospects and improve their living conditions.