IOM Community Centres Engage Iraq’s Displaced, Returnees and Host Communities in Peacebuilding
Erbil – As Iraq recovers from years of conflict and widespread displacement, support is required not only to repair damaged physical infrastructure, but also to strengthen social relations.
There are 3.2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq due to the current conflict, as well as 2.2 million displaced who returned to their place of origin. While host communities have shown remarkable hospitality towards displaced people, over-stretched resources strain social relations, and even the most resilient communities have been affected by occupation and conflict.
To support displaced Iraqis, their host communities and those returning to their place of origin, IOM has established four community centres in the governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk and Ninewa. The centres are funded by a contribution from the European Union.
The community centres offer a safe space for people to gather and engage in community initiatives that are aimed at enhancing self-confidence, mutual trust and dialogue through peacebuilding activities, vocational and leadership training, mediation sessions and self-help groups. The ultimate goal of these activities is the building of skills required to manage interpersonal conflict and support inclusive social relations. More than 4,600 people have already participated in activities at the community centres.
“The community centre in Kirkuk is the only centre of its kind in this area. It is a favourite meeting point for many displaced people and host community members who come to learn vocational skills, engage in discussions and make new friends,” said Ekhlas Abdulmajeed, the team leader at the community centre in Kirkuk, which was established in December 2016.
“The centre plays an important role in bringing people together and helping them to break social barriers and reduce tensions. One of the most popular activities is a three-month tailoring course for women, which creates opportunities for them to engage with their peers and community,” Ekhlas added. At each community centre IOM also offers childcare, to ensure that mothers can engage in activities too. All activities are free of charge.
Manal was forcibly displaced from Fallujah after a mortar from ISIL destroyed her family home. She fled to Baghdad, where she visited IOM’s community centre.
“We were safe in Baghdad, but I felt isolated, as I was previously a teacher but in Baghdad I had no regular social activities.
“I heard through a friend that IOM offered activities at a community centre. I participated in the mediation training, which taught skills related to dialogue and communication, and negotiation between conflicting parties. I made new friends and discovered important ideas that will help with future challenges,” said Manal.
IOM’s community centres host activities including advocacy initiatives, film and book discussion groups, and theatre performances. The centres also provide small grants to volunteer networks for activities including public space beautification and establishment of community gardens.
Vocational training opportunities include English and literacy courses, sewing, hairdressing, barbering, AC repair and arts and crafts. Leadership and peacebuilding courses are offered for youth. These activities provide participants with the opportunity to build relationships, get to know people of diverse backgrounds and challenge potential stereotypes.
Ibrahim, 22, was displaced from Mosul to Kirkuk in 2014. Coming from Mosul with a different cultural background to those in Kirkuk, Ibrahim said he faced challenges in gaining people’s trust and making friends within the host community.
“Going to the community centre gave me the chance to interact with more local residents and learn about communities with different backgrounds. It helped me to explain to community members that people who fled Mosul are also survivors of ISIL violence. This was challenging, as some people perceive us differently because we were displaced from an ISIL-controlled area.”
Community centres are managed by IOM staff from IOM’s Psychosocial Support and Social Cohesion team, who work closely with community focal points.
To ensure sustainability, IOM carries out its community-based activities in close coordination with both Iraq’s and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Displacement continues across Iraq:
Mosul – Nearly one year after the start of Mosul operations, which began on 17 October 2016, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), an estimated 800,100 individuals are currently displaced and more than 297,800 individuals have returned (as of 11 October 2017).
Hawija and Shirqat – More than 15,600 Iraqis are currently displaced due to Hawija and Shirqat operations, which began on 21 September 2017. Over 102,700 individuals were also displaced from these areas between August 2016 and 21 September 2017. Over 31,200 people have returned following the operations during these periods (as of 12 October 2017).
IOM Iraq DTM data about displacement across Iraq can be accessed at: http://iraqdtm.iom.int
For more information please contact IOM Iraq: Sandra Black, Tel: +964 751 234 2550, Email: email@example.com