Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, July 23, 2007

Assistance needed for internally displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan

The following piece was written by LaChelle Amos, a fellow of LCHR currently living in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq.

As I step out of a police truck with two policemen sitting up front and three sitting on a bench in the bed of the truck, I motion with my camera to a little girl standing by herself, seeking permission to take her photograph. She very shyly indicates her approval by barely nodding her head. By the time I have snapped the picture, I am suddenly swarmed by a group of Arab children, each wanting me to take their picture as well, and, of course, anxious to see it once I have. By the children's smiling faces and beaming, bright eyes, you would never guess that they live with their families in tents with walls composed of blankets, sheets, tarps and anything else large enough to serve the purpose. Sanitation is non-existent on this piece of garbage-covered land, nestled in between the highway and apartment buildings. Two water tanks have been provided by the Governorate of Sulaimaniyah, with water trucked in a couple times a week. Approximately 80 internally displaced Arab families, roughly 420 persons, inhabit Qawala camp, on the southern outskirts of Sulaimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. The camp is considered illegal by the Governor's office. The land is private property. The first families set up their tents a year and a half ago to escape the sectarian violence in their hometowns, throughout Baghdad and Diyala province. Some have since returned in exchange for a small monetary compensation offered by the Governor's office. Many more, however, fear for their lives and wish not to return, at least not now. "We have to accept the reality that these families are here" and do something to assist them, said Hewa Jaff of the Governorate of Sulaimaniyah's Public and Foreign Relations Office. Though the Governorate has received some assistance from international organizations, such as the International Committee for the Red Crescent (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), much more is needed. Qawala is not the only internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the area. Others exist in the two other governorates of the Kurdistan Regional Government as well. Jaff, who visits with the IDPs in Qawala on a regular basis, has worked to find other locations where the camp can officially be established, as the violence has no foreseeable end. The criteria for choosing locations are pretty stringent, Jaff explains. One site was ruled out for being too close to Kirkuk. Another for being too close to the Iranian border. Three sites have since been chosen. The final decision will come from the Kurdistan Regional Government's Minister of the Interior. The problem, Jaff continues, is that the camp management proposals received by the Governor's office from international NGOs will only sustain the camp for a few months. The Governor's office cannot take on the management task, as it does not have the budget for such action. At the UNHCR Geneva conference in April 2007, the Iraqi central government pledged to allot funds to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and to its own IDPs. The Governorate of Sulaimaniyah has not seen any such funds, says Jaff. The same point was confirmed by Venus Shamal Karim with Kurdish Human Rights Watch. Considering Kurdistan is presently the most stable and secure region within Iraq, continued preservation of this condition should be taken into consideration as officials continue to work toward some form of conflict resolution. In addition to existing in extremely poor conditions, IDPs, as well as refugees in neighboring countries, increasingly strain local economies. In order to maintain the present stability, the Iraqi Central Government needs to provide greater assistance for IDPs. Additionally, the international community, particularly the US and Iraq's neighbors, should take a vested interest in preventing additional instability in the northern region and potentially greater chaos throughout the country and within the region as a whole.


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