8 million Iraqis have been left displaced and much of the country has been destroyed (primarily concentrated in the urban areas in Ninewah and Western Anbar) due to several years of conflict and the collapse of the Islamic State. Today, 1.9 million remain internally displaced, and the pace and scale of ongoing displacement and lack of support for returning families has made the Iraq crisis one of the largest and most volatile in the world.
The Swiss NGO HEKS/EPER has teamed up with Better Shelter to give displaced families the opportunity to return to the village of al-Ayadia. Located 15km north of Tal Afar, the town was ISIS’s last stand during the Mosul Offensive in 2017. As a result, more than half of the buildings in the village were destroyed during the conflict, and of the 25,000 local population, only 5,000 have returned so far.
About the project
A plot of land in the centre of the town was selected for 113 shelters, and subsequently 120 vulnerable families were selected for the program based on specific criteria.
Each shelter is installed on individual concrete slabs atop of a concrete strip of 80 cm along the shelter and 1 m for the entrance and the back. Each shelters has a personal latrine and shower, and the water waste is directed into a cesspool below the surface. Finally, to limit concrete surfaces, a 1 x 6 m strip of land is shared between 2 shelters. All shelters are built with 3m2 patch of green space that can be used as a vegetable garden or for flowers.
The project aims at enabling the restoration of privacy and dignity to the returning families, and it promotes the revival of autonomy for local families who otherwise have become dependent on aid and support.
Mohammad Abdul Khadir, 57, is a former shop keeper. He and his family are among the 120 that have received a shelter through the project.
“I used to own a little shop selling sweets and other items on the street. It was good, the children would come in after school and greet me, while the men would hang out for the evening and chat. It was a simple life but a good one. When ISIS came, not much changed in the beginning, but when they started to control our lives, I decided with my wife to leave. We had to leave in the night with little other than the clothes on our backs as not to raise suspicion.
When we got out, we moved into a camp outside Mosul, which was not great. We were dependant on support from other organisations, but we were always fearful that it would stop. When Mosul was retaken, we moved into a house in Mosul with four other families paying 175,000 IQD (147 USD) per month for a 4x5m2 room for 5 people. It was not comfortable, but we were independent. In February, a friend called me and told me that HEKS-EPER were inviting people to return to al-Ayadia, I signed up immediately.
Today my son is completing his final exam, he has been wanting to return to al-Ayadia for some time. I decided with my wife not to tell our children that we had been accepted for a shelter until I had the keys in my hand. This is Iraq, so things change quickly. I am excited to go home, tell the family to pack their bags and tomorrow we will be living in our new home. The shelter is not perfect, but we are among friends and family. This is our home, and having this shelter is the next best thing. I will now try to reopen my business and save money to rebuild my house. It will cost between 14-15 million IQD (12,000-13,000 USD) to make it liveable and I hope to be able to rebuild our lives again.”
Swiss-based HEKS/EPER works towards a more humane and just world and a life in dignity, with focus on rural community development, humanitarian aid and inter-church cooperation. Within Switzerland, it fights for the rights and the integration of refugees and socially disadvantaged people.
More updates will follow about this project.