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Mental health a concern for displaced Iraqis

Humanitarian organizations and residents of Babil have been providing material assistance to displaced persons from Kirkuk, but many of the displaced continue to suffer from psychological trauma.
Mourners pray during a funeral in Kirkuk, June 23, 2014. About 15 Iraqi Turkmen Shi'ites were killed by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Tuz Khurmato, relatives of the deceased said. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) - RTR3VAT2

Hassan Tawfiq, who was displaced from the village of Bashir, 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) south of Taza Khormato in Kirkuk province, considers himself lucky. Hassan found himself a job in a bakery making bread and pastries to provide for his family of five, which fled to join him once he arrived in the city of Hillah in Babil province, 100 kilometers (about 63 miles) south of Baghdad.

In light of the high unemployment rate among Iraq's displaced, earning money is not easy, and most of the displaced still rely on scarce assistance for housing and essential daily needs, which is provided by residents, government agencies and humanitarian organizations.

In a province such as Babil, most of the displaced, who are estimated at more than 3,000, are distributed among schools and gymnasiums, while a smaller number stay in mosques and a few are in residents’ houses.

Omran al-Saadi, whose journey of displacement took him a month, told Al-Monitor, “I am happy about moving away from the brink of danger." He stressed, “The horror I have witnessed in Bashir village has pushed me not to think of going back there again.” Saadi added, “Gunmen slaughtered a young man based on his ID, while we were on the verge of death.” Along with others staying in a classroom filled with displaced persons in a school in the town of Mahawil in northern Babil, Saadi said, “They are unwilling to return to where they are from.”

Sami Ali, a Shiite Turkman who also fled Bashir for Babil on June 25, said to Al-Monitor, “The return to the village [of Bashir] is just a matter of time.”

While checking on the displaced people in Babil’s provincial center and in cities of Hashimiya and Qassim in the south of the province, Sabrine al-Khafaji, a social researcher, noted “the high-despair level among [the displaced], which intensifies with the lack of services and the scarcity of aid.” For his part, the Department of Migration and Displacement director in Babil, Nasr Abdul-Jabbar, told Al-Monitor, “The steady increase in the number of displaced is a challenge to the province’s capacity to host such a huge number of displaced.”

On June 10, the Islamic State (IS) exerted its control over the city of Mosul, the center of Ninevah province, causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands. In the city of Hillah, dozens of families that have fled Tal Afar — located 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) northwest of Mosul — are sleeping at a mosque that has been temporarily vacated to accommodate them, until their status is settled.

Raheem Sakban, a displaced person from Tal Afar, told Al-Monitor, “My displacement from Tal Afar was imperative, after my brother was killed because of his religious affiliation.” Although he praised the current aid programs, he said, “It is not enough compared with the tragedy inflicted to my family,” and wondered about the uncertain future that awaits him. He noted that “his journey was not easy,” and explained, “Before I arrived in Babil, I stayed in a hotel room in Al-Salihiyah in Baghdad, but I had to leave it after a few days, because I could not come up with 4,000 Iraqi dinars [$3] per day.”

The huge number of displaced has revealed social solidarity for assisting them, but disclosed the Iraqi state’s failure in facing crises and disasters. This failure is proven in the presence of displaced women and children sleeping on sidewalks and in squares and parks due to the lack of space to accommodate their large number.

Social researcher Murtada Chaya attributed part of the reason for this failure to a large part of the assistance for the displaced being improvised and also used as a sort of publicity for this or that political party; he criticized that “the crisis is being used for political purposes in many activities.”

He told Al-Monitor, “The violent crisis experienced by the displaced caused many of them to suffer from bad psychological conditions, frustration and fear of the future.” He said, “Losing trust in the homeland and community is the most dangerous part of the suffering of the displaced.”

The remedies for the suffering of displaced persons go beyond material needs, as they include the treatment of psychological disorders and trauma as well. This is where the concerned parties have failed, as the appropriate remedies are not available. In this regard, Chaya said, “This is what is causing a number of displaced to commit suicide, and some with serious mental illnesses.”

Cleric Jassim al-Khazali told Al-Monitor that as a remedy, “Many displaced are resorting to prayer and recitation of the Quran to be relieved from psychological suffering; this is bringing them the peace of mind that they have lost a while ago.”

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