Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

International Rescue Committee (IRC) Refugee, Staff & Volunteer Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Iraqi Refugees’

Northern Iraq: Waiting to go home

Posted by jessmalter on 3 September, 2008

Jessica Malter blogs from a region of Northern Iraq bordering Iran and Turkey where she joined an IRC team bringing clean water to displaced villagers.

In the remote Qandil mountain range in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Iran have been conducting military maneuvers to rid the region of Kurdish separatist groups believed to be based in the area. The ongoing bombing and shelling has terrified hundreds of villagers who live there, disrupting their tranquil way of life and sending them running.

Over the past several months 120 families have fled the fighting and are living in what has come to be known as the Mangory Bridge Camp.

“We hid in the caves around our villages for 20 days hoping the shelling and bombing would stop, but it only got worse so we came here,” Mer told me, pictured here with her daughter. “It is only a few hours from our home, but it is peaceful. Now we are just waiting. We want to go home as there is no life for us here, but it is still too dangerous.”

One of the biggest problems the families face in the camp is a lack of clean water. Warda, pictured outside of her hut, told me she thinks her daughter is sick from drinking dirty water.

“We know the water is dirty because we have to use it to wash clothes and dishes,” she says. “The children play in it and sometimes end up drinking it, even though we have told them not to.”

When the IRC learned that residents of the camp were in need of drinking water, they moved quickly to get three water tanks installed the area. The tanks were delivered the day I visited the camp and are being connected to a nearby spring, which will provide the much needed clean water.

The women in the camp say they are very happy about the arrival of the new water tanks. They say it will make their daily routine easier and will keep their children healthy. They say their main concern now is where they will go when they are forced to leave the Mangory Bridge Camp.

In a month’s time the water will rise and the families will have to abandon the area. “We don’t know where we will go if the bombing and shelling hasn’t stopped by then,” said Seimya, pictured on the right. “It would be best if we could go to the town a few miles away, but we have no money to pay for rent. We are hoping the local authorities will help and provide us with some simple houses if we can’t go home.”

After four months of being away from their village, the children in the camp are bored and desperate to get home. They say they have very little to do here and back home they can at least help their families tend to their sheep and crops and have more space to play. This summer, their main activity has been racing across the stream that runs through the camp.

With the new school year just weeks away, parents in the camp are extremely concerned about the children missing school. Some are wondering if they should take their chances and go back to their village or try to find a place to settle that’s close to a school that would welcome the children. The children are anxious about the situation as well. “I like school,” Peshraw told me. He’s the one on the far left. “I want to be there on the first day. I don’t want to fall behind.”

The IRC is now speaking with local authorities on behalf of the displaced villagers to try and come up with a relocation plan that will enable the children to attend school and provide a safe place for the families to live until the violence subsides and they can safely return home.


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Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: The heartbreak of fatherhood

Posted by jessmalter on 8 August, 2008

Jawab, an Iraqi refugee, spends a few hours every day talking with other Iraqis and staff at the IRC funded Chechen Community Center in Zarqa, Jordan.  He says as an Iraqi it is the one place where he is comfortable socializing.
Jawad, an Iraqi refugee, spends a few hours every day talking with other Iraqis and staff at the IRC funded Chechen Community Center in Zarqa, Jordan.  He says as an Iraqi it is the one place where he is comfortable socializing. Photos: Jessica Malter/The IRC
Jessica Malter is blogging from Jordan. She arrived there in June to support the International Rescue Committee’s regional programs to aid uprooted Iraqis.  Read her earlier post from Amman, Jordan here.

With the cost of living skyrocketing in Amman, many Iraqi refugees have moved on to the less expensive city of Zarqa, about 45 minutes north of the capital.  In Zarqa the IRC is supporting the Chechen Society, a community based organization that is helping the recent arrivals.  The day I visited the center, IRC-funded vouchers were being distributed to be redeemed at a local store for much-needed household items such as fans, ovens and refrigerators.   Most Iraqis in Zarqa are extremely poor and live in dilapidated apartments, many that lack functioning appliances.   So while this may not sound like typical humanitarian relief, this sort of assistance is crucial when working with an urban refugee population.I discovered, though, that the Chechen Society serves another important purpose beyond being a distribution center; it has become a second home for Iraqis like Jawad, who otherwise remain secluded in their apartments with little opportunity for social contact.  Jawad told me that being at the center reminds him of being with his family, whom he hasn’t seen since the war broke out.
Jawad fled Iraq in 1994 after he quit the army, something that was frowned upon by Saddam’s regime.  Until a few years ago people could easily and safely travel back and forth between the two countries, but that is no longer the case.  Jawad’s wife and four children have not been able to get the travel documents they need to enter Jordan to visit him as they once did.

Jawad wants nothing more than to see his family, but if he goes back to Iraq now he will not be able to get back into Jordan.  Even though he is not allowed to work here and cannot support his family financially, he says it is better for them if he stays put.  In Jordan, he has applied for the family to be resettled in a third country and he doesn’t want to give up on that possibility.  He worries constantly about his children and what sort of future they will have if they cannot leave Iraq.  They stayed there to finish their education (until last year Iraqi children were not allowed to attend Jordanian schools), but now he fears all their learning is going to go to waste.

Jawad shows off his new refrigerator, which he purchased with IRC vouchers.  He says it could not have come at a better time as he was recently diagnosed with a tumor and needs to keep his medicine at a cool temperature.

Jawad shows off his new refrigerator, which he purchased with IRC vouchers. He says it could not have come at a better time as he was recently diagnosed with a tumor and needs to keep his medicine at a cool temperature.

From the Chechen Center we walked through the bustling streets of Zarqa to Jawad’s apartment.  He wanted me to see his new refrigerator, which he says could not have come at a better time.   A mass on his neck was recently diagnosed as a malignant tumor and his medication needs to be refrigerated.  Jawad says he needs treatment that he can’t get here in Jordan, so the medicine is a sort of stop gap measure.

Me and Jawad share a laugh

Me and Jawad share a laugh

Despite everything, Jawad is a good humored man who still enjoys a laugh and is more than happy to talk politics. “I hope the next American President does not give up on the Iraqi people and does the right thing,” he tells me. “We need somewhere else to go. What other option is there?”

After leaving Jawad’s,  I visited the appliance shop where the vouchers were being redeemed.  There I met Hatif who was getting an oven.   At first he didn’t want to talk to me or have his photo taken, but after a bit more thought he agreed  if he said it would help  get his voice out on behalf of his family and other Iraqis.  

Hatif, a successful car-repair shop owner in Baghdad, is now a refugee living in Zaraq.  Unable to earn a living, he and his family are completely dependent on aid organizations for their survival. Here he turns in an IRC voucher for a new oven.

Hatif, a successful car-repair shop owner in Baghdad, is now a refugee living in Zaraq. Unable to earn a living, he and his family are completely dependent on aid organizations for their survival. Here he turns in an IRC voucher for a new oven.

In Baghdad Hatif had owned a successful car repair shop and was living well, with more than enough to provide for his wife and four children.  Militia raided his shop though and took everything.   The threats followed and the family fled to Jordan two years ago.  Unable to work here, he is trying to keep the family going on the 160 Jordanian Dinars (USD $225) he receives every month  in assistance.  He still owns his house in Iraq, but can’t go back to try and sell it and has no idea what has become of it.

His eyes well up when he talks about how hard it has been for his children, who are old enough to remember what their lives were like before becoming refugees.  Now, he says he can’t even bring them chocolate. His children still ask for things—clothes ,toys, a  bicycle –and  every time they do he tries to pacify them with the same line, “maybe next month”.   For Hatif the worst thing about his situation is being completely dependent on others for their survival, especially when it is totally unnecessary.  He could easily give his children what they want and buy his own oven he says, if he were only somewhere where he was allowed to work.

Read more about Iraqi refugees and how you can take action to help here.

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Iraq Humanitarian Pledge: 10,000+ Signatures

Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 24 July, 2008

Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC

Thank you to every single person who has signed our Iraq Humanitarian Pledge.

As you may know, for each person who signs the pledge, $1 in additional funds will be donated to support our work in Jordan and Syria where nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees are living in fear and isolation. So far we have collected more than 10,000 signatures and raised more than $10,000 in additional emergency funds. To help us reach our goal of 60,000 signatures, please spread the word to your friends today.

To learn more about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, you can read our recent Q & A about conditions on the ground, “Iraqis Living in Squalor – Q & A with IRC Program Director Aidan Goldsmith.”

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Iraqi Refugees: No Place to Call Home

Posted by jessmalter on 14 July, 2008

Iraqi refugees cautiously sell shoe polish and other small items on the streets to earn some money.
Photo: Jiro Ose/The IRC
Jessica Malter is blogging from Amman, Jordan. She arrived there in June to support the International Rescue Committee’s regional programs to aid uprooted Iraqis.

Even though more than four million Iraqis have been displaced within and outside of Iraq since the 2003 invasion, the humanitarian tragedy of the war story remains largely untold and misunderstood. That’s part of my assignment here for the IRC – to help tell this story.

Before I left, many of my generally well informed friends asked if I was going to visit refugee camps in Jordan. The fact is, there are no refugee camps here. Iraqis fled terrible violence, family by family, and now live scattered throughout the poorest neighborhoods of Amman and other Jordanian cities, tucked away in back alley apartments that often take two or three phone calls to find.

I spent a recent morning doing home visits with Hiba, a young Jordanian caseworker. She works for a joint CARE-IRC program that aims to provide social services, counseling and cash assistance for Iraqi refugees.

It was a draining morning hearing story after story of despair. All the Iraqis I spoke to that morning expressed a similar sentiment: while they feel safe from violence in Jordan they do not feel free. Their lives today are nothing they would have ever imagined for themselves. Most of them are in dire financial straits. Not allowed to work and out of savings, they are living on whatever they can earn doing odd jobs, help from family members and what assistance is available to them. What I found most shocking were the horrendous living conditions. Few of the places I saw were fit to be called “home”, though glimmers of lives past were discernable if you looked closely enough.

In the center of Amman, through an alley and up a treacherous flight of decaying stone steps, we found Fala. Fala is married with two young children, ages five and two. His family fled Iraq two years ago when they returned home one day to find a note on their door from a local militia, saying, “Leave now!” He didn’t want to take a chance. Now they live in a hovel with no running water or electricity. They eat only what they can prepare on a single gas burner. The family sleeps together in an area of one room that Fala told me was safe enough, though it didn’t look that way to me. The ceiling was caving in and it seemed any moment chunks of concrete might descend. The room was crammed with their few possessions: broken toys; clothes; some tools and a variety of old electronics such as a tape player, VCR and clock radio. Fala studied engineering back in Iraq and I imagine trying to repair these devices was a way for him to pass the time and maybe earn a few dinars. His children are too young for school and the thought of them spending their days in such an unhealthy and confining environment is disturbing. Fala is especially worried about his five-year-old; he says he barely speaks anymore.

Next I met Hassan. He pays the equivalent of $20 US dollars a month to live in a shack constructed on the top of a building. Hassan fled Iraq after being repeatedly threatened because he had worked for the Baathist Party. His brother had already been killed. Now in Jordan, he has no viable source of income and is fast running out of his small savings. He had been working illegally in Jordan but was caught and given a stern warning by the police, who confiscated his passport. He said his two years in Jordan have been like being in prison. Even so, he will not consider going back to Iraq, believing a violent fate awaits him in there.

Then there was Ahmad, who lived in a dark and dingy room with no furniture and few possessions. He fled after receiving death threats. He earns what he can ironing and fetching coffee for people in the neighborhood. With no steady income, he has given up eating meat and is now limited to fruits, vegetables and bread. The few clothes he has hang from hooks on the wall. Among them is a perfectly pressed suit hanging in plastic–a constant reminder of his past life in Iraq where he held an office job.
Living in the room next door to Ahmad was Mohammed. Clutching a book, with reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, I was particularly struck by how out of place he looked in his surroundings. And that’s the thing– none of the Iraqis I met that morning belong where they are. They all deserve better. Mohammed had been a teacher in Iraq, before going to work for the U.S military. He fled Iraq after receiving death threats as a result of his association with the Americans. He had applied for asylum in the United States and when he learned that I was from there he said to me in English, “Can you help me?” “Inshalla” I replied, a common expression in Arabic meaning “God Willing”.

The Iraqi refugees I met that morning, like most that have had to flee their homes, live in a grey zone, having little idea of what their futures hold and no particularly good options.

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1 Signature = $1 for Iraqis in Desperate Need

Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 9 July, 2008

Photo: Gerald Martone/The IRC
More than 4 million innocent Iraqis are uprooted and in dire need of food, medicine, education, jobs and a safe place to live.

The IRC is on the ground providing lifesaving relief.  YOU can help.
For each person who signs the IRC Iraq Humanitarian Pledge, $1 will be donated to provide additional emergency services to Iraqis in need by one of our supporters.

Help us reach our 60,000 signature goal.  Please sign our pledge

Spread the word!  Add our widget to your blog, My Space page, Facebook profile (try the “My Stuff” app), etc…  Here’s the code:

<a target=”_blank” href=”http://ga3.org/irc/helpiraqirefugees.html”><br><img src=”http://img.getactivehub.com/gv2/custom_images/irc/iraqi_humanitarian_badge.JPG” border=”0″></a><!–</p>–>

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