It has been some time since I wrote a piece about my work as a humanitarian in the Iraq Humanitarian Response. Today I had the opportunity to talk to women and their children in Mosul who had lived under ISIL for the last three years. The stories they shared with me are beyond imagination and I cannot even imagine what they went through, What they share with are stories of fear and pain. but also bravery and hope. What particularly stroke me – and has always done since I got engaged in the Syria and Iraq Response – is the impact on children and youth and the limited funding opportunities to support them – the future of these worn torn countries. Sometimes it is one story, one face, one smile or one picture which makes you really think if what we do is enough – will ever be enough! I was sitting in a classroom of a primary school today and the originally innocent teaching materials on the wall revealed so much more than many reports can say. They show us under which doctrine children were forced to live under and they give a glimpse for what is needed so support those ones to heal and find peace again in order to rebuild the future for themselves and their families. The international community should do as much as possible in providing support for education, psycho social support and social cohesion!
It has been a long time since my last post on my blog. Not because the suffering of Iraqis and Syrians has become less in the last months – more to the contrary!
But sometimes my job, the job of so many of my colleagues – humanitarian aid workers – in an emergency response like the one I am currently working in, Mosul, is overwhelming! It makes you speechless and forces you to your limits, to work even harder, to try to alleviate suffering and serving the most vulnerable people with the limited resources and capacities one has been given – the international community has been giving, in terms of manpower and life saving assistance. It feels like being in various parallel universes at the same time. Being located in the save areas of Northern Iraq, Kurdistan Iraq, cities like Dohuk and Erbil, while implementing emergency response activities in newly retaken areas around and in Mosul – not forgetting (though too often forgotten) the ongoing support of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and returnees following 2014. Between war-zone and „normal life“….
The people you meet often times make you wonder if there is any justice out there and if peace will ever succeed. So many stories of families ripped apart, having nothing left than what they could carry with them. Families who lived for more than 2 years under ISIL occupation, being exposed to tremendous horrors. Children who lost their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Each and every of their stories, their lives should be told in order for all of us and the rest of the world to understand what it means to being forced to flee – to seek safety and – if possible – a future. Humanitarian aid is like a plaster on a deep wound, which can only serve for a moment – it is an immediate life saving support. Already at this stage we struggle – there is never enough funding to assist everyone! There is never enough access, security, planning and coordination to ensure that the most vulnerable are 100% reached – despite all efforts! But what next? What comes after the „liberation“? What are the big political strategies to avoid any kind of fall back into revenge, retaliation, disputes, underlying deeper conflicts? The next deadly conflicts are just around the corner if longer term, sustainable, realistic and honest strategies are missing.
And then you read the news from home and abroad: USA implementing a travel ban for Muslims, Hungary deciding to detain all asylum seekers, right wing parties in so many European countries using refugees to create an atmosphere of fear to win elections, new walls made of concrete or razor wire against „waves of refugees“ built all over the world, a constantly rising death toll of refugees and migrants in the Med….
And you realize becoming silent is not the way forward – you have to speak up, stand up, rise awareness, argue, fight – for that we do not forget: it is a human responsibility and duty to support the most vulnerable, to support those of us who are forced to flee their homes due to violence, war, terror, oppression – in countries of origin and destination!
We said „Never again!“ – we lied! Shame on us! Will we learn? Will we – the species „human“ ever learn? Aleppo’s people had to pay a horrific price – for what? And now? What will happen to the people of Aleppo now and tomorrow? And to all the other children, women and men trapped in conflict zones and protrected crises and besieged areas? Looking at cities like Raqqa, Deir er Zor, Mosul as well as whole districts and provinces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Lybia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, and so many more – where civilians constantly pay the price of power struggles and short sighted politics, where the world is only one tweet or like away from the horrors on the ground, but our actions to save lifes and support solutions on the way to peace are limited and often too late… This is about political willingness and humanity – every dispute, conflict, war can and will eventually come to an end – if it is wanted and if peace is worked on collaboratively, honestly and continously by all parties involved. This is for sure a challenge in a globalized world where assymetric proxy wars are spreading, natural resources are vanishing, ideals, concepts, ways of life and religions are clashing and money is ruling.
May it be a challenge, but if we do not even try, what else do we have left as humans?
We once proudly wrote down for eternity „All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.“ (Article 1 Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Let us remember that and finally work together on that in a more committed way outside of our comfort zones! This world can be a better place for all of us … if we want!
As the military offensive towards Mosul has started a week ago, all governmental and humanitarian actors are scaling up the preparedness activities to being able to support newly displaced people with life saving humanitarian aid in and off camps. The big question marks though remain: How many people will come when and where to? How long will they stay? In what state will they be?
„A humanitarian catastrophe is looming over northern Iraq. As many as a million people are expected to stream out of Mosul when Iraqi government forces, backed by the United States, move to retake the city from ISIS, which took control two years ago. The much anticipated military operation could begin as early as next month, but aid workers here say they do not have anywhere near the resources, money, or manpower to deal with the expected human tide.“
According to UN OCHA (Mosul Corridor Displacement Overview, 31.08.2016) over 31,000 people have fled ongoing military operations in the Mosul corridor towards Makhmour/Erbil governorate. They have now found shelter in various camps in Debaga area in the last weeks. Debaga is overcrowded with around 36,000 IDPs in the camps and around 7,000 in reception centres.
Even though various actors are supporting the people in need, the numbers outgrew quickly the expected capacities and there is a big need for humanitarian assistance in all sectors (WASH, Shelter NFI, Food Security, Health, Education, Protection).
In light with the to be expected military offensive towards Mosul city itself, the government of Iraq, the government of KRI, the UN and the humanitarian actors are currently planning for the humanitarian response with an anticipated caseload of around 750,000 people in need in various areas around Mosul.
Debaga gives us a slight idea of what is to be expected in the coming months!
“ During the first eight months of 2016, some 281,740 people have made the treacherous sea crossing to Europe. The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece has dropped dramatically from over 67,000 in January to 3,437 in August, following the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement and the closure of the so-called Balkan route. The number of arrivals to Italy, meanwhile, has remained more or less constant, with some 115,000 refugees and migrants landing in Italy as of the end of August, compared to 116,000 during the same period last year.
The main change, however, has been the number of casualties. So far this year, one person has died for every 42 crossing from North Africa to Italy, compared to one in every 52 last year. This makes 2016 to date the deadliest year on record in the Central Mediterranean. The chances of dying on the Libya to Italy route are ten times higher than when crossing from Turkey to Greece.“
„Humanitarian partners in Iraq are warning that urgent steps need to be taken to prepare for Mosul. Partners are appealing for USD 284 million to start preparing for the operation, which could impact as many as 1.5 million civilians. (…) Military operations by the Government of Iraq and its allies to retake areas from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are already forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians, including more than 85,000 people from Fallujah, to flee their homes in search of safety. More than 3.3 million Iraqis are currently displaced across the country and as many as 2.5 million more people may become newly displaced along the Anbar and Mosul corridors and in Mosul city in the months ahead.
Although front-line partners are racing to provide support, virtually every camp and reception centre receiving newly displaced families is already at full capacity. Families who are displaced require a broad range of life-saving and specialized assistance. The most immediate needs are for water, food, emergency shelter, and medical assistance. (…) The costs of the Mosul humanitarian operation itself will depend on the scale, duration and intensity of the battle for the city. Humanitarian partners, working closely with governmental counterparts, have developed a range of scenarios from limited destruction and limited displacement for a limited period to massive destruction and massive displacement for a long period. In a worst case, nearly USD 1.8 billion may be required to support the people in trouble. (…)“
UN PRESS RELEASE: MOSUL FLASH APPEAL 2016. 20.07.2016
Today is „World Refugee Day“, like every year on June, 20th. All over the world activities, campaigns, etc. are planned. It is ever more sad to see that every year the numbers of people who are forced to flee their homes to seek safety inside or outside their countries. Since a few years we can read the headlines „the highest number of refugees since World War II“…. and the numbers are still rising.
Today 65,3 million people are displaced by conflict and persecution – that means 1 person in 113! Every minute 24 people are displaced – 4 times more than 10 years ago! More than half of it are children.
And what do we do about this? Producing ever more articles, campaigns, projects, demonstrations, touching videos. Many people do not want to accept this, but it needs a common global approach to fight the causes of displacement and to support those who have no other choice than fleeing their home.
As Mr. Grandi rightly states: “The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs to prevail.”
After 2 years working as a humanitarian for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and IDPs in the Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with growing numbers of displacement and people in need of humanitarian assistance, while at the same time funding is cut and so called peace talks are leading nowhere, I am sometimes disillusioned. There is so much to be done, so many solutions to be found and so many people to be supported that it sometimes feels overwhelming. Reading and hearing at the same time hate speeches or racists comments, political speeches or articles, especially towards refugees, all over the world, but especially in the West, I sometimes fear about the direction we are heading to. Like many of my friends and colleagues I will continue the way of supporting refugees and IDPs in the countries where they come from and/or were they stay in the region as well as back home.
I still believe in humanity and in the fact that supporting and protecting children, women and men who are forced to leave their country is a human obligation.
Who are we to believe that it is always ‚the others‘ who have to face the tragedies we only read in the news?
World Refugee Day 2016 – what can we do to not have an even higher number of displaced people June, 20th 2017?