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najaf\'s displaced struggle to survive

Faris Harram
In the midst of a mass of crowded bodies and hands Intisar Yaseen struggled to pull out a sponge mattress. Beside her another person clung ferociously to two bed sheets.
25.05.2009  |  Najaf

Intisar, who lost six members of her family during the conflict of recent years, is one of hundreds of people who gather in al-Salam neighbourhood in Najaf city hoping to receive assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The aid is distributed, under the supervision of the Department of Immigration and Displacement, to displaced people from Baghdad and elsewhere across the country now living in Najaf.

In Najaf alone there are more than 11,000 displaced families, a large number of which live, without work and means of supporting themselves, under very difficult conditions.

For many, the assistance is simply not enough to live off. Intisar says she needs more to survive and complains that others are better looked after than her.

"My share is almost a quarter what was being distributed two hours ago to other displaced people," said Intisar. “Their share was three mattresses, three covers, a container for drinking water, as well as sheets and other things."

Saber al-Hussein is another displaced person from Baghdad who now lives in one of the poor areas to the west of Najaf city. He says that life is increasingly difficult with people living on "the minimum level of integrity” as a result of "government neglect."

“The displaced are crushed here, they live on bits and pieces of aid, and I can show you people sleeping in the open,” said al-Hussein. “And although this is the situation you don't find officials, organizations, or any other governmental or nongovernmental bodies taking care of them."

The Department of Immigration and Displacement in Najaf says that assistance is being distributed by governmental bodies such as itself, as well as other nongovernmental organizations including the Iraqi Organization of Relief and international agencies.

According to Maher Makky al-Ameedy, the ministry official responsible for the field programs in the area, the assistance can be divided into two types. The first covers monthly donations amounting to about US$ 130 per displaced family. Additional aid is selective "on the basis of [individual] situations."

Due to a lack of solid information about displaced people al-Ameedy said that this is the best means of distributing aid.

However, a number of displaced people complained to Niqash about the criteria used in selecting families for additional assistance, saying that they know a number of rich families whose names are on the list. Additionally, they complain that officials have never visited them to assess their situation.

One displaced person, Sheikh Kareem Al Haydari from Baghdad, told Niqash he has never been visited by a ministry official despite the extreme hardship he endures with his family.

The ministry has now announced that it will launch a comprehensive survey to fully acquaint itself with the circumstances of the city’s displaced people in an attempt to better assist the most desperate.

For some, the situation has now become too difficult. Hameed, who used to sell agricultural pesticides in Baghdad, now lives by selling vegetables on the Baghdad road. He said that when his family fled they expected to be able to live off government assistance “before they discovered that they had to wake up from this delusion and start working.” Today, they are struggling to survive.

Others, however, are finding the new circumstances more favourable. Abu Sahleh the owner of a bakery shop says that he never intended to live off assistance and that he started the same business he had in Dyala as soon as he moved to Najaf. Business is now booming, he says. "Even if the situation becomes better in Dyala, I will stay here."

For some then, like Abu Sahleh, integration into Najaf has been easier and it seems likely that they will remain in the city to take advantage of the security and economic potential.

But many more live in uncertainty and fear, unable to survive in Najaf but equally unable to return home.