A child from the Zharawa IDP tent camp on the Iraq/Turkey border. The families in the Zharawa camp were displaced from their homes by Turkish bombing raids. Photo courtesy CPT.
Amazingly, both me and my luggage arrived safe and sound in Suleimaniya in the early morning hours of January 1. Every connecting flight landed and left on schedule. This is a rare event in my many travels back and forth.
I just wanted to send a few brief updates on what I've seen and learned so far. I visited the IDP tent camp in Zharawa. 6 families have decided to stay at the camp indefinitely. They are too afraid to return to their villages and they have nowhere to go in town. I don't know how many people are in each family but I saw children and elderly at the camp. They have a generator but no money for benzene to run it. The US military dug a well in July but they are still waiting for a pump. They think it will be finished in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, as of December 31, 2009, the UNHCR has stopped bringing in tanks of water. They have not had water brought in for the past 4 days. They are still in tents and not looking forward to snow and ice.
Many families are living in the town of Zharawa either crowding into relatives houses or in very cheap, small rental houses. Don't have those numbers yet.
Some families have returned to their villages and will stay there as long as they are safe. Don't know those numbers yet either. There has been some shelling but that has been limited to the outskirts of the villages. The last time there was extensive shelling inside the villages was August. Schools have reopened in the villages.
We had a long meeting with Kaka Haji. He is hoping to get a meeting with the new Prime Minister, Mr. Barham Salih. He believes Mr. Salih will hear and heed his plea for the needs of the villagers. However, after long discussions, he came to the conclusion that his government really doesn't care about the little people on the bottom. I assured him that this is not a phenomenon unique to the Kurdish government. Kaka Haji recognized the need for the little people to organize in order to make them just a wee bit bigger. CPT is considering offering them trainings in organizing and nonviolence. In the meantime, we are in the end stages of preparing a report for the international community and human rights organizations on the condition of the IDPs.
I had a chance to see Khaled Qader and the folks at the Rania Youth Center. Khaled has been busy preparing the Rania delegation for their trip to Duluth this spring. Still no affirmation from the Kurdistan government regarding their travel funds but they are living in hope which is amazing considering what they have been through.
I have a lot more catching up to do. I'm still taking a lot in and will have more to say as time goes on. That's it for now.
Michele Naar-Obed of Duluth's Loaves & Fishes Community has recently returned to Kurdish region of Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. The CPT has maintained a presence in Iraq since October of 2002, and is currently focused on accompanying displaced persons in the Kurdish border region and documenting human rights violations against civilian populations. You can read more of her reports at duluthcpt.net.