Since the Syrian crisis first broke out in 2011 and since the advance of the so-called Islamic State (IS), about one million internally displaced persons and some 250,000 Syrian refugees have sought refuge in the Kurdistan-Iraq Region in northern Iraq. This is an enormous challenge to the region, whose previous total population was six million. The majority of the newcomers live in normal communities, often with friends or family. Only 40 per cent of them live in camps.
On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has, since 2014, been helping the Kurdish regional government to care for the refugees and internally displaced persons in northern Iraq. This entails firstly making direct improvements to the situation of the people who have fled to the region, and secondly expanding education services, as well as health care and drinking water supplies.
One of the most important tasks is to enable the many children affected to continue their schooling. The existing school buildings are unable to cope with the influx of students; since 2015, GIZ has built or renovated 46 new schools in the camps and in the towns, as well as in rural regions within Dohuk Governorate. Two of the schools were built in cooperation with UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund. The new schools serve more than 45,000 children and young people. But it is not only the buildings that are stretched to bursting point: classes of up to 60 children are not uncommon. More than 4,000 teachers have attended methodological and didactic training to enable them to teach these huge classes effectively.
People also need legal advice, training and recreational activities, however. Several community centres established by GIZ in 2015 provide these services for around 25,000 people. Currently, GIZ is running six of these centres with a Kurdish partner. Since many of the refugees are severely traumatised, they need psychosocial care. 20 social workers have undergone a three-month training course to enable them to provide psychosocial counselling services, and 480 people have been trained to provide psychological first aid. The various services offered by the six centres are in great demand – more than 200,000 people have made use of them to date.
Physical health is another focus of work on the ground. In the camps, six health centres have been established and fitted out – one with an obstetrics ward. Four of the centres are run by Kurdish and international partners. They offer the residents of the camps and the surrounding areas free medical care. About 325,000 internally displaced persons alone benefit from this service.
Construction work and cultural and social activities need a lot of willing hands. And one of the things that the newcomers want the most is to earn their own income and to take up employment. The ‘cash for work’ programme offers swift, direct help. Since April 2016, more than 43,000 people have been involved in construction projects and social activities, enabling them to earn a temporary income of around 20 euros a day. One of them was 39-year-old Asma from Mosul, who has been living with her family in Erbil for several years. Together with other internally displaced persons and residents in need, she helped maintain a number of public pre-schools. This work enabled Asma to earn around one million Iraqi diners, equivalent to about 800 euros. ‘My husband is seriously ill, which is why I go out to work for my family. It wasn’t easy to get started here in Erbil with five children, my husband and myself in a strange city. But I like working in the project. It’s the only way for me to enable my children to continue to attend school and cover the nursing care expenses for my husband. I’m proud that I can be a role model for my children. I want them to see that women can achieve just as much as men.’
As at: October 2019