Monday, July 23, 2007

Iraq: Iraqis set up their own improvised displacement camps

Families in Baghdad have been collecting food and other items from their neighbours to send to displaced people living in makeshift camps

Thousands of Iraqis have been setting up their own improvised displacement camps after fleeing violence in their home areas and being turned away from already overcrowded formal camps.

“We didn’t have a choice,” said Muhammad Bilal, 43, who lives in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Al Hillah, the capital of Babil province in central Iraq.

“We tried to get support in three camps near the [provincial] capital, but we were not allowed in by locals who had already settled there. And the local NGO looking after the families said they couldn’t offer the same assistance to us.”

After numerous futile attempts to find a safe place for his family to stay, Bilal and dozens of other men in the same situation decided to set up their own camp.

“We decided to sell all our goods, cars and some people who have relatives outside Iraq contributed money which helped us to buy some tents and store some food,” Bilal said.

Their initiative has been repeated across Babil province, in Ninawa province in the north and Diyalah province in the east.

NGOs welcome initiative

Local non-governmental groups (NGOs) have welcomed the initiative but say they do not have the funds to support this increasing number of displaced families.

“We are unable to offer full assistance to those hundreds of Iraqis settling in their own camps but we hope we can soon do that. We have called upon international NGOs to make more donations which will allow more people to leave the dangerous areas they are staying in and make their own private camps in safer locations,” said Saluwa Abdel-Aziz, a member of the disaster and displacement department for Iraqi Voices of Freedom, a Mosul-based NGO.

The Iraqi Aid Association (IAA) was upbeat about the informal camps but concerned about how the displaced people would survive after their own resources had run out.

“We are really happy with the initiative from those families,” Fatah Ahmed, spokesman for IAA, said. “There are about 2,800 Iraqis living in private displacement camps, especially near Babil and Mosul [Ninawa province]. Today they are able to support themselves but tomorrow it could become another reality.”

Government concerned

Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration expressed its concern over individuals setting up informal displacement camps, saying that such initiatives could bring more violence to safer areas in Iraq.

Bilal said he was worried that militants or insurgents would find out about their settlement and target people living there.
“There isn’t safety in Iraq and even living as a displaced person some extremists might come after us. And if it happens, there isn’t anything we can do to save our lives anymore,” Bilal said.

Women and children living in informal camps said their lives had improved significantly since moving to a camp.

“Before, we couldn’t even stand in the doorway of our house, scared that a bullet would come our way. Our children were crying every day and never sleeping,” said Um Khudar, 34, a mother of three living in a camp housing up to 370 people on the outskirts of Al Hillah.

“The children are sleeping now, we can sit outside our tents and speak with other people and until now we have food and water donated by some local NGOs. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what our destiny is, but at least on some days we can live in a peaceful environment,” she said.
Published with the permission of IRIN
Disclaimer: This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the UnitedNations
Photo: Copyright Afif Sarhan/IRIN