Saturday, February 6, 2010

"What will become of 137 families?" Duluth CW Michele Boertje-ObedFeb. report from Iraq with CPT

Duluth CWer Michele Boertje-Obed is back in Northern Iraq with the

Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) for

another four and a half month stay. You can keep up with Michele's

work by logging on to her blog site:


Michele Boertje-Obed <>

Sat, Feb 6, 2010


February, 2010


Dear friends,


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.


The US military authorized payment for digging a well at the camp. The

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 Zharawa. Some

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

differences between Iraq, Turkey and Iran, and you have a tangled web

that turns deadly when the guns are brought in to play. Some of those

guns are supplied by the United States who has its own agenda both

with Iran and Turkey. In this case, a bunch of villagers don't rank

all that high in the political scheme of things. In the eyes of

governments, these folks aren't important enough to be protected. They

are dispensable.


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 Turkey in 2008. The bridges are a tangled, twisted,

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, Iran shelled an area dangerously close to 4 of the

villages. Turkey sent out surveillance planes before the shelling.

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


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 N Iraq



Contact person for updates:

Greg Boertje-Obed

Olive Branch CW House

1614 Jefferson, Duluth MN 55812

Ph:(218) 728-0629

E-mail: <>

Web page:


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