By Nedail Yousif Ealai
I left Ninawa towards the governorate of Irbil after staying for two days at my house under random shelling by the security forces’ airplanes of Iraq, in their armed confrontation during which they stormed the city of Mosul. When the shelling of residential areas became more concentrated, I became worried for my family, and decided to leave the house for a safe place.
We left by car at 9 o’clock, raising white flags, terrified of being shelled.
Everyone was in a state of terror of what may happen to us on the road. Even my three-year old daughter said, in the Mosul dialect: “I am afraid we are going to die.”
After leaving our house, we saw the militants on the road, and told them that we want to leave Mosul. They said go ahead, and there is no need for the white flags, we want nothing from you. We drove on to safety, but after a great deal of suffering.
There were many dismembered bodies of people, army, and even women and children dispersed around the streets from the random shelling. We headed towards the road leading to the Kurdish region, passing a few villages before Dahuk. The road was crowded with people from Mosul, waiting to enter the Dahuk governorate, or one of the adjacent villages.
It was an excellent initiative from the residents of the villages to assist the displaced people of Mosul. They offered us to stay in the village, and would provide us with all our needs.
We waited in Al-Badriyyeh area for 5 hours under the scorching sun, thirsty and tired, and psychologically broken, until we were permitted to enter the Kurdistan region, to head towards Irbil.
We arrived at the governorate at 2 am, exhausted from the drive and the worry, walking around streets empty of people, carrying with us the images of suffering from the Ninawa governorate.
We cried and moaned, seeing our city where we were born, destroyed and demolished, leaving our house without knowing its fate, and whether we would return there or not.
Wife: “We lived for days waiting for death at any moment. Fear and horror, myself, my children and my husband, terrified of the random shelling.”
We stayed for two days in the basement waiting for the end of the fighting, but then we decided to leave the house and head for my parents’ house in Irbil, not knowing if we would make it there. Even if we die, this is our fate.
We left without knowing the fate, with the exhaustion of traveling that road, in order to get rid of the deteriorating situation in Mosul, until we reached the Irbil governorate.
Do Abu Abdullah and his wife consider Irbil a temporary place until the crisis is over, or is it a place to settle down permanently?
We did not think of the future. We shall wait for whatever comes in Ninawa, although we miss our house and memories which we left in Mosul.
Our daughter Tibah, who is 8 years old said: “I want to go home, because we left my grandfather there, and my room and toys. It is true that I am comfortable in my grandfather’s house here, but I want my home, my room, and my father’s family.
Sadness was clear in everyone’s eyes as they looked at each other. Was that sadness over their houses and memories, or over a lost nation and a lost city?
By Ali Alaa Yahya, Ali Ala’a Yahya Nafi’ Al-Na’imi
We lived happily in the city of Al-Fallujah.
Our children around us played and went to their schools and kindergartens, well-supervised so we can be content for their future.
We worked day and night so we could bring them their sustenance and make them happy, asking for nothing except our warm embraces.
They played in the garden with the neighbors’ children.
When the politicians disagreed amongst themselves, the army poured its wrath on the city. The war started, and the city was bombed with airplanes, explosive drums, mortar shells, and various types of missiles and rockets, inclusive of cluster and incendiary bombs. Peaceful homes were destroyed, and the random shelling did not spare the old, women, children or young people. Schools and markets were shelled alike.
We lived horrifying days and nights, putting cotton inside the children’s ears so they could sleep. When the shelling became worse, children would run into our arms, while we waited for the house to collapse over our heads. Since the war against Al-Fallujah started on 30/12/2013, all exits from the city were closed by the army, and nobody could leave.
They then cut water and electricity supplies and prevented food, even medicine, from reaching the city, which was turned into a large prison for the unarmed civilians.
We decided to leave the city through a dirt road among the villages. It was very dangerous, and snipers from the sectarian army shot at some cars leaving on this road.
We left on the early morning of 28/1/2014 heading for Irbil. We suffered a great deal from the tough road. Our children became sick from the cold and the long drive. We arrived in Irbil at 11 pm. We suffered a great deal looking for a place to stay. We headed for Shiqlawah, and found a tiny place to stay. It was expensive and our children were deprived of means of rest and reassurance. They had no breathing space, as if they were in a prison, which affected their health and psychological state. Every day that passes, they say to us: “When do we go back to Al-Fallujah? When do we go back to the garden where we played, and the kindergarten where we went, and our friends we played with?
They became depressed. When they asked, we used to say: We will go back when the war is over. The children repeated the question with every day that passed.
Our children left their schools and friends and toys. This affected their psychological health very much, as a psychologist indicated when he said: There is no doubt that the early stages of childhood leave a deep effect on forming the child’s personality, even after puberty. As a result of what a child experienced during childhood, he becomes aggressive or quiet with the change of many factors, including the life style and family habits, particularly during catastrophes. Hence, an adequate environment must be provided, even a small part of his previous life before displacement.
O Fallujah: Does grief not have an expiration date for you, or even a warning to keep away from the reach of children?
المشاركين في التدريب المشتركة لدينا العراقيين المشردين أن هذه المشاكل التي تواجهها في العراق. (Participants of our training shared these problems that displaced Iraqis faced in Iraq.)
The followings are the suggestions some of the participants made for Story of Life’s next steps:
- Continue the project and follow-up with project activities:
- The project should create job opportunities for IDPs.
- The project should teach IDPs skills which will help them in finding job opportunities.
- The next training should focus on electronic journalism only.
- Giving technical and financial support to the people who will follow-up with coordinting other trainings and doing the project.
- Provide more electronic tools like cameras and laptops.
- Brainstorm a part of the project that can help support elderly, children, minority IDPs, people with disabilities and women IDPs.
- Include health awareness as part of the project
- Focus the project on raising IDPs’ awareness about their legal and constitutional rights.
- Do a training that focuses on using social media in a secure and professional way.
- Follow-up with a professional training for specific people on video stories.
By Khidher Domle
Fa’izah Thiab Sarhan
Despicable sectarianism and bullets that do not distinguish who we are and agree on one thing: Death. Adam … Adam … Adam,” a voice calling from far away. Your father is dead. This is what young man Adam, 25 years of age, responded when he explained the reason for leaving Baghdad.
Adam’s eyes widened and a pretty smile engulfed his hoarse voice, full of suffering. I stood frozen in my place, failing to understand what my friend said. Unconsciously, I climbed into my car and drove away, thinking about how I would find my father.
September 28, 2013 was an unforgettable night. I found my father drenched in his blood. Next to him was a gun that belonged to those who tricked him. A treacherous bullet was stuck in the side of his body.
My eyes looked at my father as he lost consciousness. I yelled at people congregated around him. Police … police … police. A police car was close by, and we used it to transport him to hospital. Hours later, they took the bullet out and dressed his wound.
Adam and his family lived in the Mechanic neighborhood in Al-Dawrah, which has a Christian majority in Baghdad. It was his birth place.
After that, Adam decided to leave and told his mother and three sisters of his decision. “We are leaving Baghdad.” Three days after the incident, we decided to leave, says Adam.
When I exited the Baghdad gate, leaving everything behind me, not knowing what was waiting for me and my family, and my father with his bleeding wound, and the fear chasing me, my tears fell and I started sobbing. My twin sister blamed me for crying. “You are our man now.” I wiped my tears. We arrived at Irbil after a tiresome journey during which I went down memory lane.
He had no relatives like other Christian families which resort to the Kurdistan region.
He described his feelings, say: “I did not sleep all night. I cried continuously. How can I support my family? Six people, and I have nothing except an old car and a few pennies.
Adam describes the adventure of searching for a job as a miracle from God, because it was a sheer coincidence involving a neighbor who asked him to work with him, after which his life and that of his family changed. He continues to strive to overcome the ordeal which accompanied his life since he left Baghdad.
There are hundreds of families like Adam’s, from the Sabean-Mandaean, one of the oldest religions of Mesopotamia, who left Baghdad an lived in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniah after being persecuted and harassed in Baghdad and other cities in middle and south Iraq.
By Khidher Domle
While Abu Tibah, a farmer in a village near Abu Ghraib (25 kilometers from Al-Fallujah) was happy with the blessing of safety with his family and relatives, enjoying the wealth of his fertile agricultural land and planning a happy life for his children, he was surprised on 15 January, 2014 by a random bombing on his area, and the army knocking at his door to tell him that he and his family should leave their house to another place, because the area is now a military operations field.
Abu Tibah managed, with his family, to collect some of their belongings, including official papers, some furnishings, and pots and pans, and ran away terrified, hopeful that fate would take them to a safer place. They arrived at a village 20 kilometers away.
Their suffering started there. Their land was destroyed by the random bombing and they started to feel displaced and their financial situation deteriorated. While they were asleep at the new location, the army attacked again and detained Abu Tibah, taking him to an unknown location. The family remained in a bad psychological state, with the father detained, and staying in a strange place with nothing to sustain them.
Villages surrounding Abu Ghraib witnessed military operations and bombing, resulting in the displacement of thousands of citizens towards Baghdad and the cities of the Kurdistan region. The area was turned into a battlefield by the Iraqi army after the militants entered it.
After seven days of worries and expectation, the army released Abu Tibah, and he returned to his family, whose members were overjoyed at his safety, although they did not know what to do. They left again to the suburbs of Al-Fallujah, hoping it would be safer, but as they arrived there, his daughter Tibah became sick, and started losing weight and becoming paler. Abu Tibah was horrified. There were no health services in the area where he lived. His financial situation was dire. His tears fell as he thought about where they were and where they have ended up.
Abu Tibah managed to take his daughter to Al-Fallujah hospital, crossing a dangerous route. After examining her and performing tests, the doctors told him that his daughter had blood cancer. He collapsed on the floor, crying. He collected himself and got up, reciting a verse of poetry by Al-Mutanabbi: I became, if afflicted by a catastrophe, like blades breaking on blades. He regained his strength, and thanked God, in any case.
Friends and relatives joined forces and collected some money for him, despite the rough conditions afflicting everyone. Abu Tibah decided to move to Irbil, hoping to find a treatment for his sick daughter. His suffering became even worse there, where the cost of housing was high and everything was expensive. Again, with the help of kind people, he managed to find a simple place for his family to stay, only to embark on another stage of suffering, especially that his daughter’s health deteriorated. He managed to have a specialist examine her, and was told that her health was bad and that she needed to stay in hospital for a long treatment. The expenses were huge, and Abu Tibah collapsed, talking illegibly, and asking God what wrong he had done to deserve this. He asked for God’s help to heal his daughter, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He could not leave his daughter to suffer like that, but he could not help her. He saw a doctor who examined her, and offered some limited facilities, which did not solve the problem. He contacted some philanthropists, who provided support for treating Tibah. She was admitted to hospital and was given the first treatment session.
Adel Ali Hamdan
A Vision of the Internally Displaced People’s Rights
From the Irene Humanitarian Network
The number of displaced people in the world, who left their homes and became destitute inside their homeland as a result of armed conflicts, has reached 26 million people. Moreover, another more than 50 million people become displaced as a result of natural disasters, while experts forecast that the effects of climate change, population growth, and poverty may increase the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) to more than 200 million people by the year 2050.
The suffering of IDPs in most cases occupies a large portion of the humanitarian relief operations, particularly after the first International Manual was prepared, addressing the issue of displaced societies in 1998, which carried the title “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”
Last week, a high level conference was held in Oslo in Norway to evaluate the first ten years since establishing the principles and to evaluate what could be done in future.
Unlike the International Humanitarian Law, the thirty items which comprise these principles are considered “a flexible law,” meaning that they are legally non-binding, but rather address a large group of human rights and humanitarian laws.
Rights and Duties
Among the important points which the principles stressed is the concept that IDPs have equal rights. Being displaced does not necessarily mean curtailing the rights of the displaced person as a citizen. Furthermore, the principles indicate that governments are directly responsible for protecting their citizens, and when they are unable to do so or choose not to do so, it becomes the duty of the international community to guarantee the protection of the displaced.
Walter Kalin, the United Nations’ Secretary General’s representative for Human Rights on displaced people stated that during the period preceding the establishment of the guiding principles, humanitarian operations overlooked the displaced, saying: “They were totally ignored. They are not refugees [because they did not cross national borders], and hence were not included in humanitarian programs.”
Kalin explained that it was recently recognized that the displaced have special needs that should be attended to, saying: “If you are not displaced, then this means you do not need to find shelter, and there is no need to worry about how you earn your daily sustenance or retrieve your belongings.”
The guiding principles established a group of standards which governments, UN organizations, and international relief organizations can refer to in displacement situations.
On her part, Ms. Lea Matheson, displacement issues advisor at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said: “Ten years ago, they [displaced people] were not viewed as a source that can be utilized on daily basis, but now, my colleagues make use of their services in the field of operations to lead projects they work at developing.”
Effect on National Legislation
On her part, Kate Halff, head of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a project supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that the Center uses these principles as references when monitoring displacement issues in about 50 countries around the world. She added: “The biggest achievement is that we now have a shared group of principles which form a foundation for all players dealing with displaced people and for the displaced people themselves who now own clear principles about their rights.”
Adopting the guiding principles in international circles has enhanced their position as a reference point for the world, but the more important development perhaps remains to be consolidating the principles into national laws and legislations.
On his part, Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the Displacement Center at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva said: “We have used these principles as main points to achieve tangible progress to influence national legislation.”
Kalin explained that one of the strong messages which should be sent from Oslo is the need for consolidating the principles in the local laws and policies. But he pointed out that this may be a tough proposal when one of the laws protecting the displaced contradicts other laws.”
The Oslo Meeting
He added: “We are trying to promote the idea that governments have to look deeply their current legislations.”
To facilitate this, a manual was prepared on the legal sides of the guiding principles, to be distributed at the Oslo meeting.
Among the important documents also is an annotated copy of the principles, prepared by Kalin’s office to clarify the links between the principles and the international law.
Ann Zaidan, head of the IDP project at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said: “At the end of the day, you have to link between non-binding laws and binding ones … you cannot depend only on the guiding principles, it is necessary to remember that there is a whole structure of human rights and humanitarian law behind these principles.”
Among the other subjects presented for discussion in Oslo was the increase in the number of displaced people as a result of natural disasters to a large extent, after climate changes started to tighten their fist on disasters.”
Kalin said that the important concentration should be directed at building consensus in opinions over the effects of displacement resulting from natural disasters.”
Sunday, June 15, 2014
This morning, I received this photo from Narin Qaradaxi from Warvin Foundation and felt relief to see some 17 participants from the area of Erbil attending our first Story Of Life digital storytelling project for Internally Displaced Iraqis (IDPs). The timing couldn’t be more auspicious in the context of the turmoil Iraq has been experiencing. Less than one week ago, The Telegraph reports, the men of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham took control of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, and as many as 500,000 Iraqis escaped Mosul as the city fell and the Iraqi army was removed. During the first few days 150,000 people passed the Iraq/Kurdistan border, so many that the Iraqi government set up camps to shelter refugees. The UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) is helping to build this latest refugee camp (much like the ones we visited in Darashakran and Kawergosk Syrian refugee camps outside Erbil). Everyone we met had a story to tell there and everyone will have a story to tell during this internal conflict.
All week, we were concerned about the safety conditions in Erbil and of the participants and organizers. We considered postponing the training, but Warvin assured us that the participants were coming from areas outside of Erbil and were not in any areas of of danger. It was more important to hold the training and provide these needed skills at a time when it was essential to help people learn to collect and publish their own stories and others’ stories of Internally Displaced Iraqis.
We decided to move forward with the training which is taking place from June 15 to June 18, 2014 at one of the universities and during which we’ll be teaching the fundamentals of journalism, information gather, storytelling and citizen reporting using social media tools. We will distribute some reporting equipment for those who complete the course and this website will be translated to Arabic and will serve as a place to house initially only the participants reporting and then will be opened for anyone to post a citizen report after registering on the website.
We will be providing updates in the coming days.
After many months of planning our project, we are officially launching our new website to coincide with the trainings we’ll be doing at the end of June, location to be confirmed.