In June 2021, Switzerland contributed $1.1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi people as well as Syrian refugees in Iraq. These vulnerable groups of people struggle with food insecurity and have little access to income-generating opportunities. Switzerland helps Iraq by providing funding to the WFP to secure immediate needs and support the Urban Livelihoods projects.
Funding From Switzerland
The finance from Switzerland partially funds Urban Livelihoods projects. The initiative assists and trains around 135,000 people by helping them create businesses and employment opportunities that will provide a sustainable income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with the Urban Livelihoods projects, funding from Switzerland supports the WFP in providing monthly food assistance to struggling families and refugees. The WFP uses mobile cash transfers and electronic vouchers to enable families to buy food from markets. In 2021, due to the added impacts of the pandemic, the WFP increased the amount of monthly cash assistance. In cases of “sudden displacement,” the organization “also provides ready-to-eat food packages to support families before they can access a market.”
Refugees in Iraq by the Numbers
As of February 2021, 329,500 refugees live in Iraq. The refugee population in Iraq consists of:
- Roughly 241,650 Syrian people.
- About 40,850 refugees from countries besides Syria.
- An estimated 47,000 stateless individuals.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq hosts almost all of the country’s Syrian refugees. Urban areas host 60% of the refugees, while other refugees reside in nine refugee camps in Kurdistan.
The Syrian Civil War
Pro-democratic protests began in Syria in March 2011. Demonstrations against “high unemployment, corruption and limited political freedom” began after several surrounding countries protested similar conditions. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government met the protests with lethal force, which further increased the push for his resignation. As tensions rose, protesters armed themselves, initially in self-defense, and eventually, to drive out security forces.
As unrest continued, the government’s response intensified. Assad continued to use violence as he strove to end what he termed “foreign-backed terrorism.” Rebel groups emerged and the conflict turned into a civil war. Foreign countries took sides, sending ammunition and armed forces to either the Syrian government or the rebels. The conflict worsened as jihadist entities such as al-Qaeda became involved. The Syrian Civil War continues to this day, with more than 380,000 documented deaths by December 2020 and hundreds of thousands of people missing.
Switzerland’s Relationship With Iraq
Iraq and Switzerland share a positive relationship that continues to strengthen. Switzerland helps Iraq with projects focusing on “migration and peacebuilding” as well as stability. In October 2020, Switzerland established the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Strategy for Swiss focus in the region. Switzerland will follow the strategy until 2024, and thereafter, the plan will be reassessed. The strategy prioritizes five themes:
- Peace-building, security and human rights.
- Migration and safeguarding vulnerable people.
- Sustainable development in the region.
- “Economic affairs, finance and science.”
- Digitalization and the latest technologies.
In Iraq specifically, Switzerland focuses on “peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need and sustainable development.” Switzerland’s contribution to the WFP covers all three goals as improving local economies is essential to advance these goals.
Urban Livelihoods Projects
Switzerland helps Iraq and the WFP by funding Urban Livelihoods projects that assist “up to 68,000 people in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Wassit.” People who take part in Urban Livelihoods projects receive a cash stipend if they work on community activities such as clearing public areas, renovating schools, planting trees and recycling.
Smallholder farmers from camps for displaced people are also a focus of the projects because farming can serve as long-term income-creating opportunities. Projects increase the cash flow to local economies, which strengthens the economic resilience of entire communities.
In addition to Switzerland, many more countries also support Urban Livelihoods in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The pandemic made the WFP’s projects even more essential as unemployment increased, making Switzerland’s contribution vital. The WFP calls on the international community to collectively contribute $10.1 million in order for the project to reach as many as 300,000 people in Iraq.
Through the commitment and generosity of countries and organizations, vulnerable people in nations such as Iraq can look toward a potentially brighter tomorrow.
– Alex Alfano