Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) http://www.cpt.org/work/iraq for
another four and a half month stay. You can keep up with Michele's
work by logging on to her blog site: www.duluthcpt.net.
Michele Boertje-Obed <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sat, Feb 6, 2010
During this month, CPT has visited the Internally Displace Persons
(IDP) camp, and various village leaders numerous times. At the present
time, there are 4 (out of 132) families living in the tent camp. The
conditions are pretty miserable. First, they are still in tents. The
weather is damp and rainy. The temperature has dropped below zero a
few nights this month. They have one more month of cold and rain to
get through before the season changes. The last time I visited them, I
left them in the snow inside a cold and windy tent. They were
shivering and crying and so was I. One mom was holding her 2 year old
who didn't even have socks on her feet. Short of doing a sit-in in one
of their God forsaken government offices to get them some emergency
subsistence, I don't know what to do.
work began back in July. As of early January, the well was still not
operational. They were waiting for a pump. United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) extended water delivery until the
end of 2009. After that, they were left to buy their own water. Last
week, the pump was finally installed. The generator was installed
during the fall of 2009 but the government does not supply them with
enough benzene to run it. Again, they are left to buy benzene
Of the 4 remaining families at the camp, CPT knows of at least one
family who has divided themselves up into 3 different places. Some
family members remain at the camp, the younger children live in town
so they can attend school, and some of them are in the village. This
causes great psychological problems for the family...
The majority of the families live in Zharawa town. They are doubled
and tripled up in houses with relatives. There can be up to 15 people
living in one room. There is no work in the town of
people are able to find day labor in Hawler (the capital city of the
KRG). Most sit in despair and depression.
Of the 11 villages that these 132 families were forced out of, 2
remain completely abandoned by the villagers. There are rumors that
these 2 villages are now inhabited by PKK members. 7 villages are
inhabited by a few adult men who try to salvage what is left of their
homes and livelihoods. Finally, 2 villages are occupied by whole
families but only 1 village has a functioning school for the children.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the villagers are caught in a
horrific political and deadly web.
They are not PKK rebels. They are not involved in any fighting. They
are farmers, shepherds, beekeepers and orchard growers. They are
keepers of a traditional way of life that will be lost if they cannot
get back to their lives on the land.
So where do things stand now? As internally displaced people (IDPs),
they are not entitled to the same provisions and services from UNHCR
as refugees. They are more dependent on their government to protect
and provide for them. The problem with protection is that the KRG is
only a regional government. It is not a national government. The KRG
is part of the larger Iraqi government. There are deep political
problems between the KRG and the central Iraqi government. In
addition, the KRG is divided into 2 main parties. There are deep
political differences between them too. Add to this mix the political
that turns deadly when the guns are brought in to play. Some of those
guns are supplied by the
all that high in the political scheme of things. In the eyes of
governments, these folks aren't important enough to be protected. They
These 132 families (about 700 people) are part of more than 1 million
villagers across the KRG border that have been displaced over these
past 2 decades. In the western portion of the KRG, the government
built collective townships for the IDPs. In some ways, this is no
better than living in a collective prison. They have not been able to
reclaim their lives and their livelihoods. They live in slums and have
become dependent on government subsistence. They describe themselves
as spiritually dead.
In the Dohuk area, the villagers have been displaced across a river
into the collective towns. There were 5 bridges that connected them to
the other side of the river where their land is. The bridges were
blown up by
contorted mess of steel and concrete. Even so, some of the villagers
are so desperate to just visit their homes that they risk climbing
across the bridges. Their houses have long been destroyed, their
livestock killed, and their orchards have deteriorated.
On the eastern side of the KRG, the government does not want to build
collective towns. They don't want the villagers to become dependent on
handouts. The KRG government wants them to go back to their villages.
Yet they won't protect them and nor will they provide for them. Each
displaced villager was supposed to receive a compensation stipend.
They did, in fact, receive half of the stipend but the other half has
been lost somewhere in the bureaucratic mess or maybe in some
bureaucrat's pocket. This is yet to be determined.
There have been a few attempts at incentive programs to get the
villagers to return home. For example, ICRC is currently building a
hospital in one of the villages. The hospital will be accessible to
3-4 villages and the villagers will be offered employment. The
government has pressured teachers to go back to the village schools in
hopes of enticing families to return.
Yet 3 days ago,
Further indication that the 2 countries are working together. An
already traumatized group of people were re traumatized. Luckily,
nobody was killed or injured physically. Psychologically and
spiritually, they were deeply injured. And, by the way, the teachers
in one village left out of fear for their lives.
In the 2 years that I've known these villagers, they remained
determined, tenacious and resourceful. When I saw them just after this
this last shelling, they were in despair. For the first time in years,
they are talking about abandoning their land. They want their
government to compensate them for their losses and they are talking
about starting their lives someplace else. For some, that may be in
the town. Others are looking for different villages to live in. We've
already been told that the likelihood of their government handing them
compensation money is pretty slim. Frustrations are rising.
Last year, they described their homes as paradise. They had everything
they needed to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually whole. They
have dealt with displacement before, but it had never been sustained
for such a long period of time.
They contributed greatly to their country both in what they produced
and what they preserved. To see them in their current emotional state
is heartbreaking. At this time, there is not much we can do except to
hold their hands and walk through this depression with them. Maybe
tomorrow their resolve will return.
In the meantime, CPT has completed a report about the human rights
violations that these villagers have experienced. If anything, it will
add to the body of information already out there that these villages
were purposefully targeted. They were not collateral damage and they
were not living in a no-mans land. We will be distributing the report
to local government and international officials. I'll make the report
available on my website and I'll let you know when it's posted. If you
haven't already seen the website, please take a look at it. There's
some pretty good videos of these folks. A picture is often worth a
thousand words. The site is www.duluthcpt.net.
Will it make a change? There was a saying a while back; “it takes a
village to raise a child”. It will take a world to raise a village.
We're not ready to abandon our village friends. We'll continue to do
what we can to nurture the life back into them no matter where they
choose to live. We will call on the international community to help
with this process.
Michele Boertje-Obed in
Contact person for updates:
Olive Branch CW House
Web page: www.duluthcatholicworker.org