Lord McConnell: Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) deserve our help and support
On a fact finding trip to Iraq, Jack McConnell encounters both destruction and hope as people slowly rebuild their lives after fleeing the horrors of Daesh
Back in May 2016, I visited Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with Unicef UK to look at education provision in refugee and IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, an emerging concern for the World Humanitarian Summit.
The situation with IDP’s was particularly bad. And so-called Islamic State were only 30 minutes away from Erbil, and even closer to Dohuk in the North, so the threat posed by them was still an immediate danger. Both Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDP’s who had escaped areas under ISIS/Daesh control wanted decent education for the future, but people also wanted to go home – even if it took several years to rebuild those villages and cities.
So I was excited to return on behalf of the McConnell International Foundation on 31 May, particularly as I could now visit those living in Dohuk and Mosul, too dangerous a journey just three years ago. After discussions with UN chiefs on Friday, we took off early on Saturday to drive to Dohuk with Unicef Iraq. In this busy, beautiful city, combining the historic and the modern, there are still more than 300,000 IDP’s – mostly Yazidi’s and other persecuted minorities – and a significant number of Syrian refugees too.
The small team from Yazda, the international Yazidi organisation, explained many of the problems facing survivors from the genocide in Sinjar in 2014. These impressions were reinforced by a visit to Sharya IDP camp and meeting Yazidi families. Life in the camps is tough, but people are scared to return to the places where men were slaughtered and young girls enslaved.
Sunday was spent in Mosul, a city is destroyed by car bombs, air strikes and then the fighting that finally liberated the city in late 2017. Unicef were on the ground immediately, opening schools for children who had experienced horror and lost out on learning. At Omar Abdi Azziz primary school, it was uplifting to see rebuilt classrooms and hear that school holiday classes have helped pupils catch up.
Every bridge across the Tigris River was destroyed by IS. Every wall has bullet holes. It will take many years to rebuild this city. But hopefully the rebuilding of lives has begun.
Back in Erbil, I retraced my 2016 visit to the Harsham IDP camp to hear how people were feeling now Mosul has been ‘liberated’. Again, we saw wonderful activities: young children performing theatre about their journeys, raising their confidence; a concert performance based on the declaration of individual children’s rights. But the camp still looked the same: an inadequate temporary home where some of these families have lived for seven years, with too little education and play provision. Here – and in the Qushtapa Syrian refugee camp – people long for their homes, but the conditions are not yet right to return.
"People long for their homes, but the conditions are not yet right to return"
Our final day was the Eid holiday and we had the honour of sharing a traditional Kurdish family feast. It was a reminder of their fantastic hospitality and the real home life these refugees and IDP’s deserve.
I return determined not just to help the Yazidi’s but also to continue to raise the situation of all IDP’s. The millions of refugees in the world today deserve the international support they get and more. In particular, the children need more education. But IDP’s remain the responsibility of individual governments and those governments are too often part of the problem. Hopefully the recent changes in the Government of Iraq and a better relationship between the different factions in Iraq will see these children put first. With UK Aid and UK diplomacy we can help to bring that about. We have a duty to do so.
Lord McConnell is a Labour peer and vice-president of Unicef UK and chair of the McConnell International Foundation