April 13, 2023
Doctors of the World warns of the humanitarian needs of thousands of migrants abandoned in the desert in Assamaka (Niger)
Iraq was plunged into turmoil in 2003 when the USA and its allies launched an invasion to overthrow the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Though the war ended over a decade ago, in 2011, the consequences have been long-lasting and completely devastating to the country. It is estimated that half a million Iraqis lost their lives, causing at least 9.2 million to be displaced, and resulting in more than 4.7 million to experience moderate or severe food insecurity.
The war seriously destabilized the region and left it vulnerable to exploitation. In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was established. ISIL was a transnational militant Islamist terrorist group, which spread further violence and displacement among the Iraqi civilian population until 2017, when the Iraqi government defeated them in Mosul.
Almost half of those fleeing took refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, including thousands of ethnic Kurds and Yazidis. The conflict significantly weakened Iraq’s health infrastructure, and over 35% of Iraqi doctors fled the country. Although military operations against ISIS officially ended in December 2017, insurgent groups are still active in certain areas of Iraq.
Health infrastructure and personnel are lacking in the areas most affected by the conflict (mainly the provinces of Nineveh, Anbar, Salah Al Din and Kirkuk) and the damage caused by the violence constitutes a major barrier to access to care for the more vulnerable including internally displaced persons, populations in host regions and refugees from Syria.
At the height of the conflict with the Islamic State, Iraq had nearly 6 million displaced civilians. Now nearly 5 years later after ISIL, significant improvements have been made to the humanitarian situation in Iraq, with the notable decline in the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance from a high of 11 million people in 2017 to 2.5 million in 2022.
Nonetheless, Iraq remains fragile and millions still require assistance. Today, 1.3 million people still live outside their region of origin, 70% of them for more than 5 years. While 4.7 million people have returned to their areas of origin, the humanitarian needs of these populations, particularly those displaced and returned from camps, have increased significantly over the past year. Some 2.5 million people are still in an emergency today, compared to 1.8 million in 2020.
Furthermore, in October 2020 the Iraqi government accelerated the process of closing IDP camps. As of January 2021, it is estimated that more than 45,000 people have had to leave 14 camps in federal Iraq, adding to the one million displaced people living outside the camp. Without a durable rehousing solution, most have found emergency solutions and 30% of them are now in secondary displacement.
Despite its numerous advancements, the state of Iraq remains vulnerable and requires international support to help rebuild itself. But since Iraq is no longer in a state of crisis and as other humanitarian emergencies develop abroad, the funding to support Iraqi development has dwindled significantly.
In the Dohuk region, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Doctors of the World is present in the Chamesku health center, the largest camp for displaced people in the region, providing a sustainable humanitarian response to the health needs of nearly 27,000 inhabitants.
In the governorates of Nineveh and Kirkuk, our organization supports local health actors and centers by providing free essential drugs and medical equipment, logistical support and infrastructure renovation, as well as capacity building for local staff.
We also provide mental health and psychosocial support services (individual sessions and group activities), and refer serious cases to specialized services. In 2021, Doctors of the World began to implement direct services to combat gender-based violence (GBV), exacerbated by the pandemic and the restrictions imposed.
The most essential thing is to listen to people. I often see patients three or four times and their story is usually similar to mine. I do not prescribe medication, but I try to give advice to reduce stress. I try to be positive, to say the right thing and to bring some comfort. If their condition worsens, then they see a doctor and sometimes go to the hospital.
Since 1990, our humanitarian actions in Iraq have aimed to improve access to quality health services for all people affected by the conflict, for the displaced as well as for the host communities. However, as conflict continues to decline, our efforts shifted in 2018 to focus on more sustainable support for local health actors by restoring healthcare infrastructure so that they are equipped to face any future health emergencies.
A transition increased by the COVID-19 crisis which encouraged us to provide more support to existing health structures. As part of this development, our organization also supports the integration of mental health and psychosocial support services, as well as services related to gender-based violence. To ensure the sustainability of our actions, our humanitarian mission in Iraq is carried out in consultation with the local populations.
In addition to providing individual counseling, our teams also provide group counseling sessions and psychosocial activities for children affected by the violence. We also conduct trainings for local medical and paramedical staff.
Ghazwa Breassam, a mother of 2 children who fled Mosul with her family, provides consultations. “About 1 in 10 women who come to visit us are pregnant and there are often complications with the pregnancies. Many have undergone tremendous stress due to trauma. Even though they are safe here, it’s difficult to carry a child and give birth in this environment. We provide advice on family planning and a lot of emotional support,” says Ghazwa.
In 2022, Doctors of the World was able to provide: