One in three children who have experienced repeated displacement in Iraq have developed fears for their safety and trauma, according to a new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
The new figures highlight the impact of protracted displacement for tens of thousands of Iraqis, years after the end of military operations with the Islamic State (IS). More than 100,000 people still live in informal sites or makeshift shelters with little or no basic amenities, utilities or protection.
Children interviewed by the NRC described how fear for their personal safety was a source of stress that kept them from leaving home or going to school. Past experiences of violence and repeated displacement have had negative consequences on their physical and psychological well-being and their motivation to learn.
“Life is never normal for the tens of thousands of children who have not had the chance to settle down with their families in a safe place,” said NRC Iraq country director James Munn. “Having to move several times means they are deprived of security and education. They risk being forgotten.”
“More donor investment in mental health support and civil documentation is needed. This must take place while families are supported to improve their living conditions and acquire the civil documentation they urgently need,” Munn added.
Displaced female students are particularly at risk. Respondents recounted incidents of harassment in the community on the way to school that compromised their safety and prevented them from continuing their education.
“We were away from home, we moved for years, until we moved to these random shelters. There is nothing here; we had to take our children out of school and send them work so we can survive. Sometimes what they earn is not enough for their commute. These are lost futures,” said Zahra, who has been displaced with her children three times and now lives in the informal settlement of Bzebez in the Fallujah district.
“Services are non-existent. You can’t see a doctor and there’s no clean water. We tried to borrow money and sell our mattresses and food for an appointment. you to the doctor. We want to go home where we can work the land and send the children to school,” Zahra said.
The NRC urges donors, humanitarian and development actors to prioritize psychosocial support, teacher training and school infrastructure in informal settlements. In addition, the NRC calls on the Iraqi government to work alongside its partners to adapt reintegration services for children in informal settlements and streamline processes for obtaining civil documents for undocumented children.