Old homeland, new life

Wafa’a and Omar are forced to leave their homes in Iraq: she escapes the threat of IS, he hopes for a better life in Germany. When they return years later, they have no prospects. Then they go on a training course – which changes everything.

Wafa’a still vividly remembers the day they marched in, as if it were yesterday. The date is 3 August 2014, around 4:30 a.m., when fighters from ‘Islamic State’ (IS) enter her home village, Hardan. Thousands of Yazidis had sought refuge in the surrounding Sinjar Mountains in northern Iraq – and were now trapped by the terror group. Wafa’a, her uncle, her mother, her two sisters and the children run for their lives that morning. They have no car. Her father and brothers stay behind. Soon afterwards contact with them is lost – perhaps forever. Later they would be told that IS had abducted the men. 

Wafa’a and her family seek sanctuary in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. When they return to Hardan years later, they don’t recognise their home: ‘They had burned down everything, our house, our shops and businesses,’ Wafa’a recalls. ‘Anyone who couldn’t run away was killed or kidnapped.’ Her uncle gives them a room. Wafa’a keeps her head above water by going cleaning. Her main desire is to rebuild her house, but what she earns – the equivalent of little more than one euro a day – is barely enough to survive. 

Then Wafa’a hears about a training programme in the Sinjar region supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. She attends a six-month-long training course to become a confectioner, and learns how to bake cakes and make other sweet goods. In the small town of Sinun, 40 kilometres west of her home village of Hardan, she then soon finds a job in a confectionery shop. She is paid a decent monthly salary, and her boss gives her family building materials on credit so that she can set about rebuilding their house. 

Wafa’a and her family are in debt, but their situation is significantly better than it was before: ‘My mother is happy that I’m getting a salary. We are living in our own house again, and we can go to the doctor and buy school clothes for the children. And I just feel much better.


Prospects for taking charge of their own lives 

There are many people like Wafa’a in Iraq. They left their homes for a variety of reasons. They return some time later, but most have no clear prospects. Since 2014, GIZ has been working on behalf of Germany’s Development Ministry (BMZ) and the European Union (EU) to support the Iraqi Government in providing for returnees. The aim is to improve their living conditions and likewise those of the communities who take them in. 

Further education and vocational qualification courses, financial subsidies and training for company start-ups along with job placement schemes ensure that people on the ground have better opportunities on the job market. ‘We support them in creating better prospects for life in Iraq over the long term, for themselves and their families. At the same time, partly through the establishment of new businesses we improve the provision of basic needs in the communities – for instance with services in skilled trades, food supply or telecommunications – and stimulate the local economy,’ says Thomas Schaef, who in his position as Country Director is responsible for GIZ’s work in Iraq. Altogether more than 30,000 people have taken part in GIZ’s technical and vocational training courses in Iraq since 2014, and almost 950 new small enterprises and self-employed have emerged as a result.


Internet start-up provides education and training during the pandemic

One of these people is 30-year-old Omar. He, too, built a new life for himself in his hometown of Khanaqin, not far from Baghdad. In 2014 he left the country via Turkey, moving to Nuremberg in southern Germany, because he hoped to find better job opportunities and improve his prospects. He learned German there but didn’t find a job and initially lived on social assistance. All alone in a foreign country, Omar missed his family and friends. After six years and five months there was no sign of any improvement, so he decided to pack his bags and leave. 

Back in Khanaqin, he first worked as a salesperson in a mobile phone shop. Then the pandemic struck – and changed everything. The residents of the town were no longer able to go to work or school, or travel to Baghdad to go to university. That was a problem because not all households had access to sufficiently fast internet services to be able to study or work online.

Being tech-savvy, Omar had an idea: he thought he would set up his own internet service company and connect the people of Khanaqin with the digital world. Like Wafa’a, he also became aware of a GIZ training programme, where he learned how to set up and manage a company. He was also given the technical equipment he needed to get started with his business.

By April 2021, the time had come: Omar got his company up and running. He not only set up internet connections for the families, but also explained to them how to use and maintain the equipment – and for the poorer families he even did so for free. His prices are well below those of the major service providers, and word soon spread: within just a few months, Omar was the biggest internet service provider in Khanaqin. ‘Lots of people say hello to me on the street and thank me,’ he proudly relates. ‘They say that without what I do, the children, school pupils and students in this area wouldn’t have made it through the crisis.’ 

More than half of all countries where GIZ works are classed as fragile

It is not unusual for GIZ to be actively engaged on behalf of the German Government in crisis regions such as Iraq: more than half of all GIZ’s countries of assignment worldwide are classed as fragile. ‘Working in conflict-affected countries calls for a high degree of sensitivity and above all flexibility,’ says Schaef. ‘Thanks to our specially trained experts, comprehensive knowledge of conditions on the ground and our international networks we support our local partners in making lasting improvements to the situations in their countries.’