Refugees from Iraq
Most refugees from Iraq were forced to leave their homes after the militant group ISIS invaded the region. ISIS began to infiltrate Iraq in 2014, creating a large-scale humanitarian crisis in the region. Since then, ISIS has gained control of some of the largest cities in the country and has caused 3.4 million individuals to be uprooted from their homes.

Increasing numbers of displaced persons are fleeing war-torn regions of Iraq, and in response to the crisis, international organizations are rallying to provide relief. Ahead are 10 facts about refugees from Iraq.

  1. Many Iraqis are internally displaced and have relocated to safer parts of the country. Around 850,000 Iraqis have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where 250,000 Syrian refugees are already living. Many people now live in displacement camps with access to emergency supplies and medical care.
  2. Nearly 16,000 Iraqis were forced into Syria, where ISIS is also controlling various regions of the country. Many refugees pay smugglers to lead them on dangerous and exhausting journeys across ISIS territory.
  3. Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, remains in the hands of ISIS. Around 500,000 people may be trapped in the western part of the city with minimal or no access to necessary aid. Those who live in the eastern part of Mosul are living in dangerous conditions as well and will also face the challenge of entirely rebuilding their lives.
  4. In October 2016, a military operation began to free the city of Mosul from ISIS control. Even if the operation is eventually successful and Mosul is retaken from ISIS, mines and other explosive devices will remain scattered throughout the city. This will prevent many refugees from returning home safely.
  5. In addition to food and shelter, many Iraqi refugees require trauma counseling and medical care. ISIS has imposed severe restrictions on the individuals who live in the regions it controls. People are left without jobs and struggle to meet their basic needs. Numerous religious buildings and heritage sites have also been destroyed.
  6. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides relief to vulnerable Iraqis. It provides counseling to women and girls, gives monetary aid to displaced families and provides business training to Iraqi youth in camps.
  7. The World Bank plans to offer Iraq financial support for reconstruction efforts after ISIS is defeated. The organization will also focus efforts on rebuilding the social fabric of the country upon the return of refugees. In December, the World Bank approved a loan of $1.485 billion to Iraq.
  8. In 2016, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) provided immediate relief to more than 118,000 people in Mosul. They also gave more than 156,000 people in the area access to safe water and vaccinated more than 13,500 children against measles. The organization plans to continue these efforts in 2017, with a goal of providing 1.3 million displaced persons with relief kits within 72 hours of a trigger for response.
  9. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) partners with local authorities in the Kerbala and Najaf governorates of Iraq to meet the needs of internally displaced persons. It provides medical and mental health services at camps in the region. In 2016, the organization oversaw the refurbishment of three schools and a water network benefiting 8,2000 individuals.
  10. Refugee camps run by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will have increasing space as displaced persons begin to return to east Mosul. In camps near the city, there are more than 4,000 family plots available for new arrivals. UNHCR plans to develop additional facilities and plots as need increases.

Though the situation of many refugees from Iraq is bleak, hope remains. Organizations are working to provide relief to those displaced by the conflict. The fight to return ISIS-controlled regions of Iraq to their people will continue.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

At the apex of Islamic State (IS) control, 10 million people were living in territory under IS authority. However, that number has been steadily decreasing.

By December 2015, the Salafi jihadist group controlled an extensive territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria that formed an unrecognized proto-state. Outside of Iraq and Syria, IS controls territory in Libya, Sinai and Afghanistan.

The jihadist group gained international attention when it invaded and overtook Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Iraq’s fight to remove the Islamic State group from Mosul has ravaged for six months, with the violence causing more than 215,000 citizens to become displaced.

Twenty miles west of Mosul, U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, met with Iraqi citizens inside a camp designated for displaced individuals. He later stated that “these people have suffered enormously,” and without aid, “they go on suffering.”

The Secretary-General urges for increased funding for U.N. programs in Iraq. He calls for “international solidarity” and aid for the people of Mosul.

The U.N. estimates that $985 million is required for emergency funds to assist displaced individuals throughout Iraq. Providing shelter for thousands of people fleeing Mosul will cost at least $7 million as the fighting continues. Presently, U.N. programs in Iraq have only reached eight percent of their funding budget.

The current focus area in the larger battle against IS centers around the control of Mosul. The city is the jihadist group’s last critical bastion in Iraq. Financial assistance for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces is a key component for regaining Mosul, which has been under IS authority since 2014.

Nearly 750,000 people continue to live in western Mosul. There, the conflict between Islamic State militants and Iraqi and Kurdish forces has led to thousands of casualties. Most of the residents do not have access to clean drinking water or sufficient food. Excluding the Iraqi military, agencies have not been able to provide aid for the people of Mosul due to the extreme levels of violence in the area.

The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting shortly after the U.S. released 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base in early April. U.N. chief Guterres advised the council to unify and reach a peaceful agreement on moving forward in Syria. “For too long,” he states, “international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity.” Guterres believes this is a “prerequisite” to ending the continued suffering of the people of Mosul and Syria.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr

In October of last year, a coalition including Iraqi, Kurdish, and Assyrian troops launched what they hoped would be a final assault to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Nearly six months later, the battle continues to rage on. Over 200,000 people have been displaced because of this conflict. In northern Iraq, Samaritan’s Purse is working to provide food and healthcare. The Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Iraq opened on Christmas day and has cared for more nearly 1000 patients.

The Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Iraq is located in the northern plains of Nineveh. It has an emergency room and two operating rooms to serve patients that might not survive a lengthy trip to the nearest medical center in Erbil.

As expected, many of the patients being treated are victims of trauma, both physical and psychological. What may surprise people is that most of the patients at the Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Iraq are women or children. For over two years, Mosul has been under ISIS control. The Iraqis have witnessed their communities destroyed by fire and bombs set off by the extremists. They have witnessed the beheading of those that have tried to resist.

Time seems to be running out for ISIS in Iraq’s second largest city, and their desperation is clear. As Iraqi forces close in on the remaining ISIS stronghold, the extremists have resorted to using chemical weapons on innocent civilians. Patients at the Samaritan’s Purse Hospital in Iraq and other medical facilities have presented symptoms consistent with chemical exposure. Victims of chemical attack can suffer from eye irritation, coughing, blisters, and vomiting. WHO activated an emergency response plan to help aid in the treatment of these patients.

These extreme measures being used by ISIS suggest that defeat is imminent. However, even after ISIS has been defeated in Mosul, and the Samaritan’s Purse hospital in Iraq can be closed, a battle remains to be fought – one with new, potentially more difficult challenges than the current conflict. In the absence of a shared, unifying enemy, disparate factions could prevent the country from recovering properly. Without sufficient support and leadership, the victory would be incomplete.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

Education in Mosul: Keeping Hope Alive
Occupied by the Islamic State since 2014, Mosul has been in the news recently as the site of the most largely-deployed Iraqi army since 2003. As the state attempts to wrest control of the city back from ISIS, Mosul has suffered heavy casualties and numerous humanitarian crises.

Recently, 40 percent of Mosul’s population was cut off from their water supply as the conflict raged into its sixth week. Additionally, the onset of winter intensifies the anxiety surrounding the food supply.

Education in Mosul has always struggled against a myriad of obstacles over the past 15 years, and the arrival of the Islamic State has only worsened a shaky situation. Curriculums were overturned, textbooks destroyed and children were soon being indoctrinated with violent dogmas and the use of weapons. Students traveled to class to learn how to build bombs and load guns.

Families are removing children from school to avoid these militarized classrooms, the physical danger of traveling and attending school in a war zone. For those who have fled the city, refugee camps are often lacking in educational materials and teachers.

Despite these challenges, camps around Iraq are continuing their commitments to keeping education alive. In the Hassan Sham camp outside Mosul, teachers are seizing the opportunity to establish regulated learning environments for subjects like Arabic, English and Math.

Despite the surrounding chaos, the teachers’ dedication is matched by their students’ passion for returning to regular classes, thriving in the positive and controlled environment. When NPR correspondent Alice Fordham asked a young boy in the camp how it felt to return to school, he responded with, “The happiest.”

This dedication is not just restricted to the small children of the camp. Reviving education in Mosul is garnering support from many outlets, with organizations like the Iraqi Institution for Development, UNICEF and the Norwegian Refugee Council promising to aid Iraqis in their goal to continue education for their children.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

Life after ISIS
After more than two years of intense fighting with ISIS, the extremist group seems to finally be getting pushed back. Now, the question of how life after ISIS will be arises. In late June, Iraqi forces retook Fallujah, one of ISIS’s largest captured cities. Now, allied troops are conducting an offensive effort on Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, and Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Of the 10 million people living under ISIS controlled territory at its peak, nearly 4 million have been liberated. U.S. led coalition and Russian air strikes have also helped destroy ISIS’s oil infrastructure, reducing its state revenue from an estimated $2.9 billion to $2.4 billion.

With ISIS clearly on the defense, it is time to begin planning the reconstruction phase, both politically and physically. While the U.S. has spent at least $6.5 billion on the military campaign, it has only contributed $15 million to stabilization efforts. Although Kerry has announced $155 million in additional aid for displaced Iraqis, the U.N., however, is seeking $400 million from the U.S. government and its allies to help rebuild the cities it has damaged.

Besides the need to rebuild infrastructure, government officials will need to address the many internally and externally displaced refugees. There are an estimated 6.6 million refugees internally displaced within Syria, 4.8 million outside of Syria, and 3 million Iraqis within Iraq. Refugees will need basic necessities like food and shelter, but also education and work opportunities for permanent relocation. Externally displaced refugees will need plenty of guidance with cultural adjustment as well.

Perhaps most importantly, in life after ISIS, government officials will also need to create long-term reconstruction plans within the Syrian and Iraqi regions. Because ISIS rose from the power vacuum created by the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011, U.S. officials should be especially wary and considerate in how it ends this conflict. Answering the question of Kurdish sovereignty is also essential, although the U.S.’s role in that may be diminished. In Syria, there is still the concern over Assad’s rule, which led to the inhumane civil war and indirectly aided ISIS’s quick expansion.

While political installations or overthrows may be the riskiest for the U.S., some have suggested establishing educational institutions as centers for peace. Rather than spreading religion through the caliphate, centralized institutions can educate on Islam bringing different ethnicities together. Though ideal, the reality that another extremist group may take the place of ISIS exists if there is no centralized, robust peace established. There is no better time than now for peaceful reform.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Mustard Gas
The Islamic State has been using chemical weapons including the poison known as mustard gas on Iraqi and coalition forces, as well as on civilian targets. Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to respond by warning civilians in conflict zones about the use of chemical agents, isolating contaminated areas and providing treatment for victims of chemical weapon attacks. If the Iraqi government cannot do this, it should seek assistance from other Chemical Weapons Convention member countries.

According to the Pentagon, mustard gas has been stockpiled and used by the Islamic State in the past, and as the battle for Mosul continues, U.S. forces say that they expect to see it used again. The head of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program has confirmed that the Islamic State has been stockpiling these weapons with the intention of using them in the battle for Mosul. In recent weeks, there have been several reports of chemical attacks in the areas surrounding Mosul.

Mustard gas was first and most famously used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, and it has been used as a method of psychological warfare as well. Although exposure to mustard gas is rarely fatal, the chemical remains infamous for its invisibility, odorlessness and lack of immediate symptoms.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the effects of mustard gas depend on how much people are exposed to, the length of their exposure and the method of exposure. Exposure can occur through contact with the skin or eyes or by drinking contaminated water or eating the gas in liquid form.

Once exposed, it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear. These symptoms usually include redness and itching of the skin, irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract problems such as shortness of breath, sneezing, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, fever, anemia and bone weakness.

The long-term effects of mustard gas can include second- and third-degree burns, chronic respiratory disease, blindness and cancer. Due to the severity of these symptoms, the use of mustard gas by the Islamic State is extremely concerning.

The World Post reported the story of a 4-year-old girl who was killed by mustard gas deployed by the Islamic State in Taza, Iraq. Her mother was standing beside her when she was killed and suffered severe burns from the gas.

Human Rights Watch has documented several other chemical weapon attacks in late September and early October. These attacks constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. For the safety of civilians and soldiers in Iraq, it is imperative that the government follow the guidelines set by Human Rights Watch and prevent chemical attacks by the Islamic State.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Iraqi Children Return to School in Liberated Villages
Since the Islamic State group (IS) emerged in Iraq several years ago, the lives of thousands of civilians have been negatively affected by violence and extremism. When forces swept through the country in 2014, their largest conquest was the city of Mosul.

The invasion forced a large portion of the population to flee and the city became the group’s best claim to legitimacy as an Islamic caliphate. Realizing the significance of the city, taking back Mosul is now a major priority for both Iraqi and Western forces in the fight against IS.

In the two years that Mosul and its surrounding areas have been under the control of IS, thousands have been forced from their home and hundreds of Iraqi children have been denied access to education. Now, as forces advance on the IS stronghold in Mosul, Iraqi children are finally returning to school in liberated villages that neighbor the city.

Mosul is an ancient city with hundreds of years of culture and history, making it central to Iraqi identity. The city is diverse and made up of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Yazidis. Not only has the city’s historical and cultural significance been damaged by the presence of IS militants, but the lives of hundreds have been disrupted.

Eastern Mosul and its surrounding cities have been liberated by Iraqi forces and residents of the area are overjoyed to feel they have regained some sense of control in their lives and communities. Free from the grip of IS, people are free to use their cell phones, men are free to shave their beards, families aren’t consumed with the prospects of being separated from one another and children are free to return to school.

After IS invaded Awsaja, a town about 30 miles from Mosul, parents pulled their children out of school to protect them from the extremist ideologies that the curriculum turned to under militant control. Awsaja was reclaimed by Iraqi forces about two months ago and since, all 700 children in Awsaja have been re-enrolled in school. The small town is severely lacking in educational infrastructure and teaching faculty, but goals for the future of Awsaja revolve around building a successful educational program for all children.

Today, half of the world’s 65 million displaced people are under the age of 18, and only 36 percent of these youths have access to education. Without education, children are more likely to be denied economic and social opportunities which can stunt the development of a community as a whole. Considering these numbers and their implications, Awsaja’s fight to provide quality education for its children is a huge step in standing up to IS and the extremism it represents.

As Iraqi forces move closer and closer to taking back Mosul, more and more Iraqi children return to school.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Combat Extremist Groups
ISIS recruits much of its membership in the states where it operates. With increased debate on why this is an occurrence, providing aid to refugees is effective in combatting ISIS because it decreases the chances of them joining the faction.

In an interview with the Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss, Abu Khaled, an Islamic State defector, calls his organization “a welfare state” because it pays for housing and childcare for fighters and residents alike.

Khaled is alarmingly correct. A 2015 Quantum study found that 12 percent of surveyed ISIS and surrounding extremist group members joined their entities because of money. The report explains that the same militants who fight for their fortunes are from Syria and Iraq.

As monetary compensation is used as a tool to convert impoverished locals into extremists, humanitarian aid is effective in combating ISIS and other extremist groups. However, the U.N.’s budget for Syrian refugees is 65 percent short of what is required to provide adequate assistance.

Failing to give substantial support to those who need it most explains why many turn to ISIS. Out of all the people who stayed in Syria, 10 million of them have an insufficient food supply. Joining ISIS is a choice of survival when it is the only way to accommodate hunger.

When developed countries give aid to these countries’ refugees, it reduces the need to choose jihad over starvation. The financial factor of pursuing terrorism diminishes when food is on the plates of 10 million starving Syrians.

Appealing to the poor is not a new tactic of radicalism. The ETA, a Basque nationalist group, grew its membership among lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

While poverty is not the only source of extremism, policymakers widely accept it as a valid component. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges it as “a root cause of terrorism.” Humanitarian efforts by the U.N. are stagnant, but the United States is leading the world in giving to Syrian refugees, providing $419 million in additional aid.

Despite more funding being present, America alone cannot endure success in alleviating Syria’s poverty and combatting ISIS. Foreign policy expert Helen Milner of Princeton University writes that there is “support for the hypothesis that multilateral aid is preferred to bilateral.” Most respondents also classified multilateral aid as the most effective solution.

America has more in its budget than most countries, yet there is still a disparity between the how much the U.S. donates and how much it actually could donate to the Syrian crisis.

Middle Eastern refugees are incentivized to follow the cash flow of prosperity. Western nations can fill the void before ISIS and other extremist groups beat them to it.

Noah Levy

Photo: UNDP

The United States declared it carried out a series of airstrikes on the Libyan city of Sirte, an ISIS stronghold, at the request of the Libyan government in August 2016.

The strikes came after nearly two years of concentrated efforts by the U.S. and Libyan governments to remove ISIS from Sirte; a strategically important city located directly between two of Libya’s largest cities, Benghazi and Tripoli.

The erasure of ISIS’s presence from Sirte means the city’s residents will be able to enjoy a higher standard of living, increased access to food and fuel and control of their incomes. Reclaiming the city from ISIS also means that healthcare in Libya will be one step closer to returning to pre-2011 standards.

Regaining control of Sirte will allow the Libyan government and certain NGOs, such as Doctors Without Borders, to begin safely providing much-needed healthcare services to the city’s residents.

Healthcare providers in Libya will be able to distribute resources across the country more evenly as they are needed, especially between Benghazi and Tripoli.

On a more significant level, overcoming the ISIS presence in Libya will remove one of the larger issues that the country has had to contend with during its rebuilding process, which has been ongoing since the country experienced a wave of revolutionary action during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Currently, the country lacks a central government as numerous opposing factions emerged after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

A U.N.-backed entity known as the Government of National Accord recently made the most significant strides in uniting the country. They will undoubtedly find the task easier with ISIS’s removal.

A successfully unified government would likely see the return of a functioning and well-equipped healthcare system; something that the country has been sorely lacking since 2011.

According to Doctors Without Borders, many hospitals have been forced to close in recent years due to lack of funds, lack of staff members and concerns about security.

A fully functioning government would be able to solve the coordination problems currently preventing the distribution of funds and supplies.

They would be also able to effectively provide secure environments for hospitals and healthcare providers to safely operate.

More funds, supplies and increased security would allow for the return of foreign-born healthcare workers, many of whom left in the wake of 2011 upheaval.

Will Clifft

Photo: Flickr

Genocide related to ISIS violence and funding gaps were the focus during the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations hearing on Dec. 9, 2015.

The subcommittee received testimony regarding why the plight faced by persecuted religious minorities, specifically Christians and Yezidis, in Syria and Iraq by ISIS should be defined as genocide by the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. has not formally declared the violence towards Christians and Yezidis as genocide. As a result Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities have not been given priority when filing as refugees for resettlement with the U.S.

“The term genocide makes members of such groups more likely to receive the preferential treatment as bonafide refugees that they should receive under the U.N. Convention and protocols on the status of refugees,” Genocide Watch’s President Gregory H. Stanton said. “To which the U.S. is a state-party, and also under the refugee laws of the U.S.”

The inabilities to ensure humanitarian resources get to those in need as well as funding gaps in the 2015 Syria Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan were attributed to ISIS’s successful perpetration of violence against religious minorities in the region.

Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International Founder and Chairman Mirza Ismail testified that the humanitarian aid is necessary, but not sufficient.

“Much humanitarian aid distributed by the Kurdish Regional authorities and the Iraqi government never gets into the hands of those who need it, those for whom it was intended — due to skimming, corruption, and politics,” Ismail said.

Ismail stated that there are more than 40,000 impoverished Yezidi refugees suffering in Turkey and Syria, some of whom have been denied food, medicine and have been abused by the authorities in charge. Ismail also testified that there are Yezidi refugees who cannot get into U.N. refugee camps, and as a result are not certified as refugees.

Chairman Christopher Smith recalled testimony from Shelly Pitterman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Oct. 20, 2015 where the main trigger of flight from refugee camps or shelter was the humanitarian funding shortfall.

“In support of the Syrian Response Plan (SRP) and the Regional Refugee Resilience Plan (3RP) international donors pledged $3.68 billion,” Smith said. “However, according to the financial tracking service at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs only $1.17 billion of the $2.89 billion has been received by Dec. 7, 2015. That constitutes only about 41 percent of what was considered necessary by that agency.”

The most recent report from the UNHCR shows that the Syrian Response Plan has been funded $132 million or 43 percent, leaving a gap of $176 million from their requirement of $309 million; the Regional Refugee Resilience Plan has been funded $778 million or 58 percent, leaving a gap of $566 million from their requirement of $1.34 billion.

Stanton commended the members of congress that supported H.Con.Res 75, which recognizes the collective persecution of religious minorities as genocide. He also commended members of Congress that introduced House Resolution 447 (supporting the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal to try ISIS, especially for its mass rape of women and girls) and Congressman Rohrabacher for introducing House Resolution 2014, which proposed that Christians and Yezidi’s should have priority when filing for refugee status with the U.S.

Summer Jackson

Sources: Foreign Affairs, 1, 2, UNHCR
Photo: Notey