Polish Aid for Iraq
Poland has been providing assistance to Iraq since 2014, when Daesh fighters took up arms against the government of Nuri al-Maliki, which caused another war in the country. A very high proportion of internally displaced people remains Iraq’s biggest problem, in addition to the huge challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and the continuing difficult economic situation. Political and social tensions, difficulties in finding work and the high level of poverty in the population are forcing Iraqi society to constantly change the place of residence. These negative phenomena disrupt and often make it impossible to secure the basic needs of the population — medical care, food and security. Supported by the Polish government, Polish organisations offer humanitarian aid to refugees and the most deprived people. Poland also helps Iraq by being engaged in international dialogue and bilateral cooperation.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to six million people were forced to leave their homes as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Today, there are around two million internally displaced people. At the beginning of the crisis, a large part of the internally displaced people sought refuge in three Kurdish provinces. The region took in nearly 30 per cent of the displaced Iraqis and almost all of the 250,000 Syrian refugees who had fled from their country to Iraq. The situation on the ground is difficult. Eighty per cent of the displaced people live in rented homes or put up at other families’ places. The demand for basic services, such as access to water and sanitation, education, health care and waste management, is growing every year.
Today’s problems of Iraq dominated a series of meetings of Minister Beata Kempa during her December visit to the country. Over five days the minister met with the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities, as well as representatives and staff of international organisations working on the ground. She also met with conflict victims who receive support from Polish organisations, including the female residents of the “Camp of Friendship,” a home for Yazidi women brutalised under Daesh rule; the young patients of the Dohuk cancer centre; displaced Yazidis in Khanke; and the charges of an orphanage and educational centre for orphans and half-orphans, also in Khanke.
Minister Kempa’s meeting with Alaa Abdessaheb al-Alwan, Minister of Health and Environment in charge of humanitarian affairs, discussed the reconstruction of the health care system in northern Iraq — a region particularly affected by Daesh. The chief of Iraqi diplomacy, Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim, thanked Poland for its support and presented Iraq’s priorities for the economic reconstruction of the country.
Speaking to Alice Louise Walpole, Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Minister Kempa stressed that Poland would support the work of the investigation team to examine the legal responsibility of Daesh. One idea is also to establish a centre for monitoring the persecution of minorities, including religious minorities, as part of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding recently signed by Poland with the United States Agency for International Development. The Polish-US agreement is to share knowledge, experience and resources in order to provide increasingly effective assistance in the Middle East, in particular in northern Iraq and in the liberated part of Syria. The priorities of the two sides include: promoting religious freedom and other fundamental human rights; development of health, education and legal systems; securing private sector growth and respect of property rights; mitigating conflicts and developing responsible, responsive and transparent governments.
Together for Iraq
As a member of the Global Coalition, Poland has contributed financially and militarily to the campaign to degrade and defeat Daesh from the very start. Right now, after control has been restored over nearly all of Iraq’s territory, the most vital issue is to rebuild homes, revive the local market, and restore normal life. That is why when, at the request from the Iraqi government and with support from the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, a financial instrument to stabilise Iraq was founded in June 2015 as part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Poland became involved in its financing. The programme aims to facilitate the return of displaced Iraqis to their homes and to support the country’s reconstruction and restoration of safety. Power grids, water and sewage installations, and road infrastructure are being rebuilt from the UNDP budget. People are given short-term employment, which helps them recover their financial stability, even if temporarily. In 2017, Poland contributed PLN 2m to the instrument, and 5m in 2018.
Grass roots level work
It is also aid organisations on the ground, supported by the Polish government, that are helping to heal Iraq’s war wounds. They channel aid from Poland to the victims of the conflict, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, where conditions have deteriorated significantly after the September 2017 referendum. In mid-October, when Iraqi troops seized the disputed areas, more than 180,000 people fled their homes, looking for security and support in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah. It is estimated that more than 271,000 people were in need of humanitarian aid in 2018 in Dohuk, one of Iraq’s smallest provinces, while in Irbil province this figure was about 358,000.
Those in need were reached by, among others, the Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), which had been running a Polish Aid project in Kurdistan since 2017. Analysis on the ground showed that for both the displaced people and the local population the most urgent thing was to meet their food needs and provide financial aid. The third priority was providing shelter, followed by ensuring access to water, education, medical care and legal aid. In partnership with the local organisation Mercy Hands, PAH also organised training and work placements and provided legal consultation, which will bring the beneficiaries a genuine and lasting change to their living conditions. In 2018, the partnering organisations provided financial support to those affected and helped them obtain documents; they also offered legal aid to the victims of sexual violence.
Irbil and Dohuk are also areas covered by aid activities of the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, whose projects try to address the health consequences experienced by the victims of protracted conflicts in Iraq. There are 600,000 internally displaced people in 27 camps in the Dohuk region and almost 300,000 in Irbil. They are all exposed to the effects of long-term living in difficult conditions (life in tents, malnutrition), which is additionally compounded by trauma and permanent stress from earlier events. Abuse of antibiotics by camp residents has also become an apparent problem, leading to drug resistance and difficulties in treatment as well as a spread of diseases. In the hope of reducing these phenomena, the Polish project has co-financed microbiological tests, physiotherapy services and health prevention.