Re-establishing home and hope in Sinjar

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Na’ima strode out to meet her guests with a confident and open smile, wrapping her traditional Yazidi scarf of purple loosely around her hair as she inquired about the chickens.  “They’ll come tomorrow; right now they are waiting at the border from Iran,” said Hashim, the ZSVP project manager.  “I’ll believe it when I see it,” she retorted, and laughed.  Inside, her small house is simple and well-arranged. Colorful cushions, which are pulled out every night to cover the concrete floor where the family sleeps, are stacked neatly from cupboard to ceiling every morning and screened with a gauzy fabric.  Before serving traditional Iraqi tea—black, sweet, and scalding hot in small glasses—Na’ima goes around the room with a pitcher of cold water and one glass cup, which she offers to each guest in turn.  Most decline, but those who accept drink it down in one gulp as she waits, then hand it back to her to fill for the next thirsty guest.

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She and her family are from a village on Sinjar mountain, but they left when ISIS came in 2014 and lived for a year and a half in a camp for internally displaced persons in Dohuk governorate, about two hours north by car.  They returned to their village in early 2016 and found that their house was gutted.  Families who had fled from other areas to take refuge on Sinjar mountain had used and taken what belongings Na’ima and her family had, so “when we returned we started over with nothing.”  Her husband is a soldier with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and is gone for weeks at a time; they have five children between the ages of ten and two.

As a participant in the poultry livelihoods project, Na’ima learned how to mold the mud bricks herself, building the sturdy square chicken house and plastering it with white clay in the traditional manner.  Using the local building materials is cheaper than trucking in cement cinder blocks, and the traditional construction style provides better insulation from both the summer heat and winter chill.  While this type of construction is more commonly men’s work, Na’ima was matter-of-fact and confident about her ability to learn new things.  “I can do anything,” she said.  “I am even watching the news on television and learning to read and write in Kurdish.”

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Through MCC’s Syria and Iraq crisis response fund, MCC’s partner Zakho Small Villages Project (ZSVP) is providing emergency livelihoods support to extremely vulnerable families in two villages on Sinjar mountain, in Ninewa governorate of Iraq, who have been affected by the ongoing conflict with the Islamic State group.  This project provides fifty households with start-up materials, training, and twenty chickens for home-based poultry livelihoods, as well as employing members of the local community through short term “cash for work” projects to construct the poultry houses and repair the damaged village water system to provide water to every household, thereby extending the impact of the project beyond the immediate beneficiaries to the entire community.

The consequences of liberating Fallujah

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All photos contributed by Afkar Society for Development and Relief*

In May-June 2016, around 85,000 Iraqis were displaced by fighting during the Iraqi military operation to re-take (“liberate”) the city of Fallujah, in central Iraq, from the Islamic State group, which took control of the city in late 2013.  In Iraq as a whole, over 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of the current crisis.

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Camps are desperately overcrowded and understaffed, with not enough tents for displaced families.

After fleeing from the front lines in Fallujah along dangerous routes, these internally-displaced persons (IDPs) are now being confined to camps in eastern towns of Anbar governorate, which are subject to occasional ISIS mortar attacks and bombings.  The situation in these camps is dire: they are overfull and understaffed, with extreme immediate needs for shelter, water, food, and sanitation.

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Boys collect grains of rice from a large pot into a dish to eat.

The reason they are confined to such a limited area is largely due to security concerns — these families are predominantly Sunni Arabs who have been living under the control of ISIS for over two years, and the Iraqi government is wary of potential ISIS sleeper cells penetrating areas of government control under the guise of displacement.  As a result, men especially are detained and extensively questioned, and families are confined to formal camp locations in Anbar governorate close to the front lines, without an allowance to move into Baghdad governorate or other, safer areas of Iraq.

In consequence, after escaping the siege on Fallujah and the control of ISIS, these families are now struggling to survive with limited resources in the heat of Iraq’s summer, with daily temperature highs between 110-120°F (43-49° C).

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With not enough tents, families are seeking shade in whatever manner it can be found.

A recent escalation of suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, including the bombing in the popular Karrada shopping district of Baghdad on 3 July and a combined bombing/gunfire attack at a Shi’a shrine in Balad on 8 July 2016, point to ISIS’s strategic shift toward asymmetric terrorist attacks as it continues to be defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria.  This reinforces the Iraqi government’s perception of newly displaced people as a potential security threat rather than a humanitarian crisis.

*Afkar Society for Development and Relief is an Iraqi non-governmental organization working in Anbar governorate of Iraq since 2004.  The organization itself was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2013-2014, but it has continued to respond to urgent needs with life-saving assistance in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Ninewa governorates (the primary areas affected by the current crisis).