PCPM, UNHCR and Better Shelter
Decades of armed conflict in Iraq have exposed its people to horrific acts of violence, and forced millions to flee. Hundreds of thousands of children, women and men have died. Today, former homes are reduced to rubble, and infrastructure like roads and hospitals has been completely destroyed. After the fall of the Islamic State and the battle of Mosul, many people who have been displaced in their own country are choosing to return home to areas considered safe.
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, has provided hundreds of returning families in northern Iraq with temporary residences from Better Shelter, which have been donated by the Polish organization Polish Center for International Aid (PCPM).
In Barzan, a town situated in rolling landscape near the Great Zab River, Kurdish forces came into conflict with IS warriors, and almost the entire village was razed to the ground. Residents who managed to escape as the violence approached have returned to find their homes completely destroyed. Many are farmers who have gone several years without work during the war, and it is likely to be several years until they have the financial resources and the functioning infrastructure they will need to restore their homes.
“Thanks to these shelters, a lot of families have been able to return to the village from the refugee camps”, said the Major of Barzan.
Residents who had managed to flee have found their homes in ruins upon their return. Many were farmers with little means – one cow and a few sheep – and do not have the money to rebuild their houses after years in displacement. After returning to Barzan many families have had to live for months in a crowded school building together with many others.
Residents fled in panic, when the Islamic State took control over the village. Abdullah, a farmer, took refuge in a building ruin in Mosul with his family. They lived there for three years, until they returned to Barzan and into a Better Shelter.
“A home gives a sense of privacy that we have not had for years”, said Abdullah.
Abdulrahman, also a returning resident of Barzan, has collected tiles from the ruins of his old house and laid them on the floor of his Better Shelter.
Residents appreciate the privacy and security provided by their temporary dwellings, and fathers and husbands say that they feel safe leaving their wives and children at home alone, when they go looking for a job.
A home provides dignity and safety
Although the destruction in the neighbouring town of Kirkafer is less severe than in Barzar, it is still in ruins and will require many years to be restored. A group of children has gathered in front of a destroyed building. Five of them are children of Khalid, a public official who was arrested and sentenced to death after ISIS’ occupation of the village in 2014. Khalid was employed by the Iraqi administration, and thus according to ISIS not a true Muslim. Following his death, Khalid’s brother Jadaan took care of his children and wife. Together with them and with Jadaan’s own family and their mother, they fled the violence in Kirkafer to Mosul and settled there in a destroyed building. They lived there for three years, but during the taking back of the city, a mortar shell fell on the building, and killed Khalid’s wife and the mother of the two brothers.
The village of Kirkafer was deemed safe again in November 2017. Jadaan returned with his family and his brother’s children, who now had lost both their parents. After returning, they first lived with other families in the school building, and then they received a Better Shelter and moved there.
“There are not many opportunities for us here, but our children have hope for a better future”, said Jadaan, whose temporary home means being able to return to a sense of dignity after years of being rootless.
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