International Director, Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ, meeting with JRS staff and some of the home visit team in Iraq. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
JRS was already present in Iraq in the Erbil area since 2014, and decided to expand its intervention to the north, in the Duhok province, last year where the needs were great.
Much of Northern Iraq, including Erbil and Duhok, is currently in control of the Kurdish community. Many internally displaced Iraqis who fled the ISIS assaults in 2014 do not live in camps and therefore have minimal services. The majority of those displaced are members of the Yazidi community, the group that arguably suffered the worst under ISIS.
JRS believes that accompaniment is the first step towards meeting the needs of refugees, and this is why we begin our intervention with family visits. By meeting people and learning what their needs are, we are able to develop programs that can better respond to those needs.
We started our work in these new areas with home visit groups, pairs of men and women of mixed faiths, who visit the homes of the displaced in towns and small villages. Many of those we are working with, Yazidis in particular, have received no outreach since they had to flee the atrocities of ISIS, and the psychosocial trauma is often severe.
Listening to those we accompany, we design programs which meet their needs for health, socializing, skill-development, and income generation. An unused health center has become a JRS center that offers livelihood programs including classes in sewing, English, Kurdish, music and computer skills. This also provides a safe place for people to come together and share their stories, like several members of the sewing class who meet every three weeks to discuss women’s issues.
“Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from atrocities suffered and seen during the ISIS takeover”, says Ana Guimarães, a psychologist who coordinates JRS mental health programs in Dohuk. She is also forming support groups and other activities to diminish the sense of isolation that many displaced people, especially women, feel acutely.
JRS’s needs assessments suggest that the displaced communities near the area are likely to remain where they are for foreseeable future. In considering the next steps, JRS sees a priority in education, especially for young children too often isolated in their homes, and the need for a Yazidi Women’s Centre to inform them of their rights, offer them support, and work together to improve their lives.
JRS’s mission focuses on the forgotten refugee, the isolated displaced family—those who have no one else. Our work in Duhok is fulfilling that mission.