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Security and dignity through shelter support in informal sites in Iraq

Some 100,000 internally displaced people in Iraq continue to live in informal sites across the country. Populations in these sites are often physically and socially marginalized, and face acute barriers to return and increased challenges accessing basic shelter and services. This includes families like Amal’s, who received shelter assistance from DRC in Ninewa, thanks to support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

A DRC member of staff interviews a shelter beneficiary in Ninewa outside of an outreach session. DRC Iraq, 2023

Posted on 04 May 2023

Amal*, 40, is a widow with sole charge for supporting her four young children. She’s been living in an informal site near Tel Afar, Ninewa Governorate, since 2017. She decided to come to the site as she had relatives nearby who could support her and her children, and as the absence of basic services, lack of job opportunities and community tensions in her hometown meant return was impossible. As the family relies on agriculture work for income, she says the increasing impacts of water scarcity and climate change also increased the risk of return. Indeed, hundreds of families in Ninewa who tried to return have been re-displaced due to the impacts of water scarcity and climate change.

While return to their areas of origin remains out of reach for many families in these sites, conditions in most fall below international standards. Indeed, most of the IDPs in Iraq still living in critical shelter conditions are among those in informal sites, including Amal’s family.

“Inadequate housing had a significant impact on the quality of our lives. For instance, taking a shower was a challenge for me as a woman, as there was no suitable place that provided privacy. This made me uncomfortable and I avoided showering for long periods, only doing so when absolutely necessary."

"I would only shower at night to avoid being seen. These living conditions greatly affected our daily lives and made it difficult to maintain basic hygiene and a sense of dignity…[And] The lack of doors and windows in our home made me feel extremely unsafe, especially at night. I constantly worried about the safety of my children, and so had trouble sleeping peacefully."

"The absence of basic security not only made us vulnerable to theft and other dangers, but also had a severe impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. It made it difficult to feel at ease in our home.”

The absence of basic security not only made us vulnerable to theft and other dangers, but also had a severe impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. It made it difficult to feel at ease in our home.

/  Amal

As Amal states, shelter is critical to the wellbeing and dignity of displaced families and is closely linked to security – especially for women and children. Recognizing this, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) supported some 850 IDPs in informal sites with basic, safe and dignified shelter solutions. For Amal’s family, this included basic repairs to or the replacement of damaged walls, doors and windows, roofing, plumbing and electric items. The distribution of blankets, mattresses, kitchen and cooking items also helped improve their living conditions.

This type of support is especially critical as most displacement-affected families in informal sites say they intend to stay where they are at least for the next year, especially in the absence of alternative solutions. Now, Amal says, both the family’s quality of life and their feelings of safety have improved.

“Thanks to the support from DRC, several critical improvements were made to our living conditions. The issue of water leaking from the roof was fixed, and the bathroom and toilet were renovated and provided with running water and lockable doors which made them feel like comfortable and hygienic spaces… Security was a major concern for us due to the absence of doors and windows that would protect us from intruders, animals and harsh weather conditions."

"But now, we have lockable doors and windows, which has been transformative. The ability to securely lock our doors and windows has provided a sense of safety and comfort that we had not experienced before. We are now able to feel safe in our house during the day and night, and we can leave with greater confidence – whether it is to run errands, seek medical attention, or engage in other activities…"

This support not only fulfilled our physical shelter needs and improved our sense of security, but also had a significant impact on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. It allowed us to have privacy, carry out our daily lives comfortably, and sleep peacefully knowing that we have a safe and secure place to call home.

/  Amal

*Name has been changed

Funded by

The European Union
The European Union
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