Displaced Iraqis Languish in Makeshift Camps

By Rezheen Ibraheem

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, July 27, 2007 (ENS) - About eight kilometers outside of the city of Sulaimaniyah, improvised tents, made up of blankets, protect displaced Iraqis from the blazing sun.

The impoverished inhabitants of the Qawala internally displaced persons' camp are families who've escaped threats and violence in the rest of the country for the relative stability of the north.

The north is increasingly becoming a refuge for Iraqis from Baghdad and elsewhere, according to a report released last week by the International Organisation for Migration, IOM.

Displaced Iraqi boys (Photo courtesy IRCS)
According to an Iraqi Red Crescent Society, ICRS, report released July 5, 142,260 families - about 1,037,615 individuals - have become internally displaced persons since February 22, 2006, when a revered Shia shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, was bombed.

"Currently, the number of displaced people is increasing at an average of 80,000 to 100,000 a month," said the IRCS report.

Sulaimaniyah province has more displaced people than any of the three provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan. Approximately 62,370 Iraqis have sought refuge here, with about eight percent of internally displaced people living in makeshift camps such as the one in Qawala, according to the agency.

Food, shelter and employment are the greatest needs of Iraq's 2.2 million internally displaced people, IDPs, who also require better healthcare, education, water and sanitation services, according to humanitarian and refugee agencies.

There are more than 100 families living in the Qawala camp, which they set up themselves. Dehydration, poor sanitation, diarrhoea and rashes are common in the camp, which does not have toilets or running water. The Kurdistan Health Foundation warned that hygiene is poor in the camp and conditions are worsening because of the summer heat.

Nibras Wadi'y, 12, suffers from a skin rash and has been told by the foundation - which provides drinking water and sends a mobile medical team every two weeks - that he needs to see a specialist.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
"My brothers don't have work," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "So how can I pay for a specialist?"

Iraqi President and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has given each family in the camp US$200, but the Kurdish and Iraqi authorities have done little to help impoverished IDPs. Aid agencies say they are stretched too thin to properly serve all of Iraq's displaced citizens.

Jalal Mahmood, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent, which has provided the camp with food and cooking utensils, said the agency has asked the Kurdish authorities to relocate the camp to an area that has public services, but they have not responded.

Unemployment is one of the major problems for IDPs, who compete with one another and local residents for jobs. Unlike many of the displaced in Sulaimaniyah, who are professionals and have rented homes in the province, those in the camps are poor and came north with next to nothing. Every morning most of the men in the camp set off to find day-labor jobs in the city, but not all are successful.

Under one of the tents, Hadya, a seven-day-old baby, cried from the heat as her parents waved a ripped carton to cool her. Temperatures in Sulaimaniyah often rise to 45 degrees Celsius in summer.

Displaced Iraqi child (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Hadya's parents, Hamid Najim, a Shia, and Fatima Alawy, a Sunni, were expelled from the al-Saydya neighborhood in Baghdad a few months ago.

Najim said he received a letter from al-Husseinia, a Shia mosque, telling him he had three options, "Leave al-Saydya, divorce your wife or you will be killed." The couple fled north.

"What did this baby ever do?" asked Alawi. "We can't go back. My husband goes out every day to find a job, but he comes back empty handed."

Lami'a Kareem Sha'lani, a 48 year old Sunni mother, lives with her seven member family in one of the tents. The family sold its store to pay a 60,000 dollars ransom when Sha'lani's 10 year old daughter was kidnapped. She left Baghdad's al-Dora neighborhood after her sons were repeatedly threatened by Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"We have a difficult life, but the most important thing is we have security and no one can harm us," said Sha'lani. Glancing at her tent, she added, "I wouldn't exchange it for our house in al-Dora."

{Published in cooperation with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.