After Mosul, what’s next for refugees and Iraq’s future?

Zelikan health center opening in Zelikan Camp-Duhok, Iraq. Photo courtesy of AMAR Foundation.

The humanitarian fallout from Mosul is expected to be the worst of 2016. That’s really saying something, given the scale of the Syrian crisis, and what’s happening in Yemen and South Sudan. As the battle rages on and humanitarian agencies have received, or are waiting to receive refugees, the media’s focus hasn’t been as much on the human side of the story.

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we talk with a representative of one of the many humanitarian organizations working to reduce the scope of what could be a massive tragedy.

“It was expected when the battle began several weeks ago that they would come out in their tens of thousands. That’s not quite happened at the moment – mostly because the corridors to get them out are not really open yet. The fighting is probably more fierce than they expected, and so people aren’t as able to leave as quickly as they wanted,” says Rob Cole, head of communications at AMAR Foundation and our guest for today’s podcast.

AMAR is an NGO that provides emergency aid, as well as longer-term development of education and health-care systems in Iraq. AMAR builds, equips and runs purpose-built health clinics for refugees.

Since June 2014, AMAR has been working throughout Iraq to help more than 3.4 million internally displaced Iraqis, around 10 percent of the total population of Iraq was forced from their homes by Islamic State’s invasion of northern and western Iraq.
Going back further, AMAR has been working in Iraq since 1992, working with displaced marshlanders in southern Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Marsh Arabs in the region – which forced hundreds of thousands to leave their homes – led the organization’s founder and Conservative peer, Baroness Nicholson, to found the charity. After nearly 25 years on the scene, the charity’s mission remains the same: to help victims of conflict and persecution.
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Rob Cole, head of communications at AMAR Foundation

Cole is a journalist by trade and started his career as a reporter at regional evening newspapers and rose through local radio into national and international television news. He was a news editor, field producer and bureau chief for Reuters Television and Worldwide Television News for much of the 1990s. He has covered wars around the world, spending many months in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia during the Balkans conflict, as well as reporting from Chechnya, Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia and Burundi.

This experience gives Cole a valuable insight into conflict, and to the human side of what is really happening in Iraq at the moment.

Over the last month, the news coverage on Mosul has often been minute-by-minute reporting on the fighting, which can remove the viewer from human need behind what is really happening inside the city and for those fleeing.

“With modern technology, you can actually be live tweeting photos when you’re there and you can take videos; it’s amazing. Unfortunately, all you’re seeing is what the soldiers are doing on one side and that’s it. I think that’s an unfortunate thing. Generally it’s the bang-bang first and then the humanitarian [situation]second,” Cole said.

Cole is keen to stress the vital and valuable work that AMAR is doing to alleviate the suffering faced by tens of thousands of those displaced in Iraq. AMAR has recently helped the Iraqi authorities to set up Zelikan, a camp which is 30 kilometers to the east of Mosul, but the camp still has room for more occupants.

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Given the organization’s strong capacity and experience of working in Iraq and with refugee populations, AMAR is an organization that understands very well the short-term humanitarian needs and how these link to longer term development goals.

Cole shares the same fears for the future of an integrated Iraq with others, as the very forces inching towards Mosul remain deeply divided along Sunni-Shia’a sectarian divides. The role of the Kurdish Peshmerga has also complicated matters, and for the country after Islamic State have been driven out of Mosul and Iraq.

“I don’t know, once Mosul is liberated, how all those sides are going to live together again – it’s a really difficult thing to work out,” he said.

AMAR has launched its Christmas Appeal to help refugees fleeing from Mosul over the coming months with life-saving healthcare, food and water supplies, and blankets for families and children.

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Before the podcast, we hear from podcast producer Imana Gunawan and correspondent Tom Murphy on recent headlines, including Nicaragua’s efforts to reduce poverty, the successes of Living Goods’ community health promotion model and the role for private pharmaceutical companies in improving health systems.

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About Author

Charlie Ensor

Charlie Ensor is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist, focusing on refugee rights, development and humanitarian crises in East Africa. His work has also featured on the Guardian and WhyDev; he also writes his own blog on development and aid issues. Charlie tweets @charlieensor, and you can contact him at charlieensor1990@googlemail.com