The following report was written by Rhona Davis, who is currently teaching English in Erbil, Iraq. Rhona conducts periodic interviews with individuals in an around Erbil in an effort to better assess the human rights situation there. This report, written in February 2008, concerns the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Erbil area.
It’s just gone nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning and I’m accompanying the mobile team for Protection Assistance Centre (PAC) on a field trip to visit IDPs in Shaways, a town a few miles north of Erbil. PAC, set up in 2005, is part of Public Aid Organisation (PAO), a local NGO, and is funded by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). Its target groups are IDPs, refugees, vulnerable people, women at risk and disabled people. Its role is to collect information on IDPs and refugees, which is sent to UNHCR, and to give immediate aid, such as food, heaters and blankets etc. They also give legal aid.
Our first stop is at the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) office to meet the representative, employed by the government, for the families in the area we are going to visit. We then go to the house of a Kurdish family who came from Mosul in March 2006. There are ten people living in the three-roomed house, of whom two are working. They have already been given food, heaters and a stove by International Relief and Development (IRD) and other NGOs, but find the monthly rent of 300,000 dinar a lot to afford. At the next house we visit there is a similar story. Two families, totalling eight people, live together and pay $300 a month for the rent and 30,000 dinar for electricity from the local generator.
As soon as we get out of the car at the third house, a woman approaches us to complain about the lack of water. She also tells us about her own situation. Two of her sons graduated from the engineering college in Baghdad and the other qualified in medicine. One of the engineers tried to get work in Baghdad, but because of the conflict between ethnic groups, he was told that to do this he had to get permission from the Sunnis. They were also threatened by Shias and Al Qaeda.
There we also meet Abu Jaman, who left Baghdad two years ago and who talks animatedly about the experiences which made him leave. Two years ago he saw two people killed by his house. When he spoke out against this he was told not to talk about it. He also saw weapons and computer equipment being taken into the mosque by his house. He complained to the person in charge of the mosque that this was not acceptable and was then told to leave his house. Once he had given information to the US army about what he had seen he knew he was in trouble and had to leave.
Now his two sons are working in vehicle maintenance, but when he went to a company to try and get a job he was turned down because he doesn’t speak Kurdish. Two months ago he went back to Baghdad. Although Al Sahawa, the movement working against Al Qaeda, was having some success in maintaining the peace, when asked if he hopes to move back there permanently, his answer was a very emphatic, “No.”
The next house we visit is positively luxurious in comparison to the ones we have seen so far – furniture, carpets, a TV and electronic equipment and decorations on the walls. The woman we meet here is from Baghdad, but she is living here with her husband and two children in her mother-in-law’s house and so they only have to contribute what they can to household expenses. The problems that she talks about focus on the fact that their children, aged eight and fourteen, have to go all the way to Erbil to go to an Arabic-speaking school and that there are limited opportunities for employment. Although they feel comfortable here, they would like to go back to Baghdad when the situation there improves, as life is better there.
When we go outside the two PAC staff are inundated with people asking for information. They have been told that if they register with the Immigration and Displacement Directorate they will be paid 150,000 dinar a month by the Baghdad government for the next year. Apparently the manager has said that there is approval to distribute the money, but … no money yet to distribute.
The staff at PAC list the main problems that people face as the high cost of rent, lack of work opportunities and the need for Arabic schools. One of their tasks is to get ration cards for people, which give them both food and fuel, though currently the rations given are decreasing. There are clearly several similar organisations trying to provide the same sort of assistance, as some of the people we see say that they have had visits from others who have taken information, maybe given them some basic aid, but have not been seen since. From my brief visits with PAC, I can see that there is an effective system in place to deal with emergency aid, but little done to address long-term problems, such as the training needed to provide people with opportunities to get jobs and become more self-sufficient. The evening after the visit I show my report to a friend. Her comment: “Food, heating, blankets … but where is education?”