By Kate Denereaz, for AMAR International Charitable Foundation.

Yazidis displaced in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. They also face a mental health crisis that the pandemic threatens to make worse.

Zaid Hamu, 31, has just heard the news that a resident of Darashakran camp in Erbil has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The case, reported on April 27th, is the first in Iraq’s camps for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). Zaid lives in Khanke camp with 22 members of his family. “People are terrified,” he says. “They are praying to god to protect them.”

In Iraq, 250,000 Yazidis are unable to return home to Sinjar almost six years after ISIS invaded the district and murdered, kidnapped and enslaved thousands of the religious minority, acts recognised by the UN as genocide. Most, like Zaid and his family, live in canvas shelters in large IDP camps.

Dr Nezar Ismet Taib is the Director General of Health in Duhok Governorate, which hosts 22 of the Kurdistan Region’s 38 camps, including Khanke. “People living in camps are among the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19,” he says. “They have big families living in very crowded shelters, poor sanitation, lack of awareness and many are working outside the camps. This makes it very difficult to protect them unless severe restrictions on movement are imposed.”

The AMAR Foundation runs healthcare clinics in two of the camps, Khanke and Essyan, each with a population of around 15,000. Teams are working hard to prevent an outbreak, making home visits and distributing leaflets and posters on the importance of hand washing and other protective measures.

A full lockdown in camps has been eased in recent days, but restrictions on movement are still in place. Initially, people could leave and re-enter camps only in an emergency, which restricted residents’ ability to earn. The authorities face an exceptionally difficult balancing act. For Zaid in Khanke, though, the relaxing of restrictions has left him and his family feeling exposed.

Zaid and his family outside their home in Khanke camp, April 2020

Mental health crisis could get worse

When ISIS attacked Sinjar in 2014, they killed around 5,000 Yazidis and abducted 7,000 more, most of them women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery. Thousands of children were also kidnapped. Many remain missing.

No Yazidi has been untouched by this. Those who have returned from captivity have acute, complex mental health needs requiring long-term psychiatric and psychological care that stretched health authorities struggle to provide. Mental health care capacity in Iraq is exceptionally limited. According to a study by the Enabling Peace in Iraq Centre, in 2017 there were only 80 working psychologists for the whole of Iraq.

The provision of psychosocial support services, which attempt to make up some of these gaps, has already been affected by restrictions on movement imposed as a result of the virus. According to the International Organization for Migration, 45% of these are currently closed in Iraq.

Psychiatrist Dr Adnan Asaad Taher leads AMAR’s mental health programme in Essyan camp. He says that the team have had to scale back home visits, but psychotherapy sessions for the most severe cases continue.

“Residents of these camps have already witnessed large-scale trauma; the COVID-19 pandemic poses another potential trauma for many. With the spread of false information on social media, camp residents are faced with uncertainty,” Dr Adnan says. “They also face isolation and fear falling ill and losing loved ones to COVID-19.”

Dr Adnan Asaad Taher, who leads AMAR’s mental health programme in Essyan

 

Dr Nezar, himself a qualified psychiatrist who treated the first Yazidi women and girls to escape from ISIS, is also concerned. “In our last mental health working group, many of our partners reported an increased number of suicides and other serious mental health problems among IDPs.”

He also believes that in the longer term “there will be a negative impact on general health and mental health services for victims of ISIS, especially ISIS victims of rape, who need more consistent and long-term mental health care.”

The diversion of healthcare resources to fight the virus and the impact the pandemic is having on the already struggling Iraqi economy are likely to limit the ability of the authorities to scale up mental health treatment. AMAR’s programme in Essyan will continue, but thousands more Yazidis need access to this kind of psychological support.

Displacement will last for many more years

For most Yazidis there is little prospect of a life beyond the camps. Although some, like Zaid, dream of a return to Sinjar and the “simple, happy life” they had before ISIS, the region’s disputed status and the presence of various armed factions make it too unsafe and have hindered reconstruction efforts. With authorities now preoccupied with the pandemic and its economic consequences, the situation is unlikely to improve.

It is therefore vital that, as countries look to battle their own internal crises, the international community does not forget the Yazidi people recovering from genocide and facing this pandemic in ever more intractable displacement.

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(Source: AMAR)

By Dr Khalil Abdul Kareem, Manager, AMAR ICF Clinic, Khanke Camp, Iraq.

Iraqis Prepare for Another War. This Time it’s Covid-19

Life is so unfair. Just when you think a displaced person’s world can’t get any worse here in northern Iraq, along comes a virus that threatens to be the biggest disaster of all.

For almost six years, hundreds of thousands of Yazidi men, women and children have lived a truly miserable life.

First the monsters of Daesh (ISIS) attacked their towns and villages. Thousands were killed and thousands more women and girls were kidnapped, raped and sold as slaves. The rest managed to escape. But they left behind their homes, their precious possessions, their jobs. Their lives changed beyond recognition for ever.

Since then, the majority have been forced to live in the sprawling displacement camps. For years now they have slept under canvas, on hard concrete floors. Sanitation is basic. This part of Iraq is dreadfully cold in winter and insanely hot in summer – it is sometimes more than 50c!

It is the perfect breeding ground for sickness. Now we are faced with COVID-19. In an environment like this, it will spread like wildfire unless we take every possible precaution. It is a race against time.

Here in Khanke Camp, on the outskirts of the city of Dohuk, we have been working non-stop.

Khanke is home to more than 15000 people, and there are almost double that amount of people living as IDPs around the perimeters. I manage the only health centre here, which is run by the UK-based charity The AMAR International Charitable Foundation (www.amarfoundation.org)

We have a small staff of locally trained medical professionals – doctors, nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists – and around 25 women health volunteers (WHVs).

For the last week we have all been working non-stop to try educate the entire camp about how to keep COVID-19 at bay. The place is already over-crowded and there can be as many as 10 people sharing just one tent.

All our teams are out from first light, visiting people and giving them as much information as we possibly can. The biggest message is of course to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Something that is very easy to do when you have access to a proper bathroom and running water, but not so easy here.

But people are scared, so they are really getting the message. They understand the need to distance and to stay away from others as much as they can.

Our clinic is staying open six days a week, and we get up to 200 patients a day. Gastric infections are commonplace of course, as is flu, hypertension, chronic anxiety and depression.

Now every patient is given a lesson in how to keep themselves safe from COVID-19. Everyone knows it’s a threat. They all see it on the news, so they are eager to find out any way they can to protect themselves.

My staff too – like medics around the world – are frightened they could be the first to develop the symptoms. They all have families. Most are the sole providers. If they get sick, what will happen they ask me.

We all take every possible precaution. But access to PPE is limited. The Dohuk Health Directorate supply us, but they have limited stocks of masks, gowns, gloves.  Certainly nowhere near enough to supply the population of the entire camp. We need outside help and support. Right now.

We have done what we can. The rest is up to god. We pray COVID-19 will not make it here.

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PLEASE FIND THE DONATION FORM HERE

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the world. Governments of even the wealthiest countries are struggling to cope with the scale of the Pandemic. For Iraq this is nothing short of disaster. Iraq’s health care system is in almost permanent crisis, constantly on the brink of collapse.

Only days ago, its Health Minister, Jafar Allawi, was seen on television pleading to Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia Muslims, for help. His government had failed to agree to Allawi’s plea for emergency funding to cope with the Corona crisis.

Iraq is a country devastated by decades of war, internecine conflict, dictatorship, corruption and poverty, and now its beleaguered staff and broken infrastructure is being asked to deal with one of the most virulent viruses the world has ever known.

The hundreds of thousands of Yazidi IDPs living in the sprawling camps in the north are particularly at risk. AMAR field teams are doing all they can to limit the spread by dispensing much needed advice and support to those most in need.

For the last 27 years, AMAR has been at the forefront of efforts to support and enhance the Iraqi health care system. We have built, refurbished and run more than 75 health care centres, our medical professionals have carried out almost 11 million consultations, and our teams have been caring for and supporting hundreds of thousands of Yazidi IDPs since the ISIS invasion of 2014.

To continue to do this we need your support. Without our amazing donors we could not have achieved so much for more than a quarter of a century. Today, with COVID-19 the very latest threat to the lives and livelihoods of the poor Iraqi people, we need your help more than ever.

ALL THE WAYS YOU CAN DONATE DONATE BY CHEQUE DONATE BY UK CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD

Search for us on Virgin money giving under AMAR International Charitable Foundation or go to our website www.amarfoundation.org

We are delighted to add that the appeal is being backed by the Joss Stone Foundation (@JossStone) which aims to raise awareness and support for more than 200 charities globally. Thank you so much Joss!

SUPPORT AMAR ICF VIA VIRGIN MONEY HERE

or

PLEASE FIND THE DONATION FORM HERE

(Source: IBBC)

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the world. Governments of even the wealthiest countries are struggling to cope with the scale of the Pandemic. For Iraq this is nothing short of disaster. Iraq’s health care system is in almost permanent crisis, constantly on the brink of collapse.

Only days ago, its Health Minister, Jafar Allawi, was seen on television pleading to Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia Muslims, for help. His government had failed to agree to Allawi’s plea for emergency funding to cope with the Corona crisis.

Iraq is a country devastated by decades of war, internecine conflict, dictatorship, corruption and poverty, and now its beleaguered staff and broken infrastructure is being asked to deal with one of the most virulent viruses the world has ever known.

The hundreds of thousands of Yazidi IDPs living in the sprawling camps in the north are particularly at risk. AMAR field teams are doing all they can to limit the spread by dispensing much needed advice and support to those most in need.

For the last 27 years, AMAR has been at the forefront of efforts to support and enhance the Iraqi health care system. We have built, refurbished and run more than 75 health care centres, our medical professionals have carried out almost 11 million consultations, and our teams have been caring for and supporting hundreds of thousands of Yazidi IDPs since the ISIS invasion of 2014.

To continue to do this we need your support. Without our amazing donors we could not have achieved so much for more than a quarter of a century. Today, with COVID-19 the very latest threat to the lives and livelihoods of the poor Iraqi people, we need your help more than ever.

ALL THE WAYS YOU CAN DONATE DONATE BY CHEQUE DONATE BY UK CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD

Search for us on Virgin money giving under AMAR International Charitable Foundation or go to our website www.amarfoundation.org

We are delighted to add that the appeal is being backed by the Joss Stone Foundation (@JossStone) which aims to raise awareness and support for more than 200 charities globally. Thank you so much Joss!

SUPPORT AMAR ICF VIA VIRGIN MONEY HERE

or

PLEASE FIND THE DONATION FORM HERE

(Source: IBBC)

By John Lee.

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) has announced that it has established a Health Sector Table.

This Table will be chaired by Professor David Kerr, Rhodes Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics, and Head of Department of Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford University.

It is being supported by the Iraqi Minister of Health and the Environment, Dr Ala Alwan, who attended its first meeting.

The Table’s first meeting was held at IBBC’s offices on the morning of Friday 28th June. Its purpose is to allow relevant member organisations to become involved in the further development of the Iraqi health sector.

Healthcare is a priority for IBBC, and the Minister will personally be liaising with this Table. Also present at this meeting were representatives of Almanseer Insurance, Serco, Protechnique, GE Healthcare, Perkins+Will UK, PwC, Management Partners, and The Amar Foundation.

For more information on the Iraq Britain Business Council, visit https://www.iraqbritainbusiness.org/

(Source: IBBC)

Run Media City – the power of words can change lives in Iraq

On the 27th June 2019, Hussein Al-alak and Tracy Hollowood are taking part on the Run Media City 5K, to aid the ongoing work of the AMAR Foundation in Iraq.

This is the second time Hussein and Tracy have taken part on the 5K, around Salford’s Media City, and they are inviting you to support the AMAR Foundation.

Your support will assist AMAR’s efforts in health, education and much more! You can also help by introducing your friends, to the many incredible changes, which the AMAR Foundation are making across Iraq.

One positive change AMAR has made, is the School for Orphans which the Foundation built in Basra in 2016. Up to 30% of the school’s children have lost both parents, the school has modern facilities and it provides a broad curriculum, so children get the best start in life.

You can sponsor Hussein and Tracy – by donating £8.99 to the AMAR Foundation – which is the equivalent of one copy of On the Road, by US author Jack Kerouac.

As Iraqi’s are known for their love of great literature, you could also use John Steinbeck’s words to inspire Iraq’s future generations.

By donating the cost of your favourite book, you will be helping the AMAR Foundation to provide a high standard of education, to children and young people across Iraq.

(Source: Iraq Solidarity News)

By John Lee.

On 27th June, Hussein Al-alak and Tracy Hollowood will run the Media City 5K in Salford, UK, in aid of the AMAR International Charitable Foundation‘s work in Iraq.

Last year, they were ‘classically civilised’ in fancy dress, but who will they be this year?

AMAR works to ensure that vulnerable families in Iraq have access to healthcare, educational services and emergency aid.

To support them, please donate to .

(Source: @TotallyHussein)

By Robert Cole, for the AMAR International Charitable Foundation.

The AMAR-led initiative to bring to an end the horrors of religious persecution, which began with a series of high-level conferences in Windsor Castle, has now led to Baghdad.

The November event, held over two days in the Iraqi capital, attracted more than 200 delegates, including senior religious leaders and politicians. There were representatives from the Shia and Sunni community, Yazidis, Christians, Mandaeans, Chaldeans and Mormons.

AMAR’s chairman, Baroness Nicholson (centre right), and delegates.

It was the fourth in the Windsor series. AMAR believes that the recognition of the Yazidi faith by other world religions would prevent further genocidal attacks on this peaceful people once and for all.

In the summer of 2014, thousands of Yazidis were killed, and thousands more women and girls kidnapped, held as sex slaves by ISIS gangs. A further 400,000 were forced from their homes and condemned to a miserable life in the sprawling IDP camps of northern Iraq.

“AMAR is determined to end once and for all the dreadful scourge of religious persecution. We began by inviting many highly influential religious leaders and academics to Windsor Castle to discuss how best to achieve this, and over three separate meetings, we drew up a comprehensive and extensive plan,” explained Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the AMAR Chairman and Founder.

She added: “The next step was to take this right to the heart of the Middle East, to a region that was the cradle of modern civilisation, one with a rich and diverse history, but a region where there has been so much religious and ethnic strife over the last few decades.”

The Baroness said it was vital that the Windsor plan got massive worldwide support. Gaining the backing of faith leaders in Iraq was the first step to getting this.

And support it they did. Speaker after speaker condemned the curse of religious discrimination. Television news crews spoke during breaks to leaders of every faith, and each time were told in no uncertain terms that murdering, raping, kidnapping and torturing in the name of god was an anathema and had no part in their religion.

A delegate listens to the speakers.

A leading Muslim academic and researcher, Dr Lahaye Abdul Hussein, said the conference was invaluable because its messages would help reduce tension between faith groups. She said Iraqis were beginning to understand the destructive nature of religious intolerance.

Dr Wathik Al Hashmi, President of an Iraqi strategic studies group, said that if religious leaders always spoke the language of tolerance and anti-extremism they would “completely destroy” terrorism.

Father Maysr Binyami, a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said the conference would help educate Iraqis on what needed to be done in order for the country to move forward.

“In order to fight extremism, it is critical that there should be tolerance towards different religions and societies,” he explained.

Reading the final communique to the packed hall, AMAR’s General Director in Iraq, Dr Ali Muthanna, said all were determined to discredit the Takfiri extremist ideology which sanctions violence against others in the name of religion, so that once and for all they could close the door on violence and extremism.

“Religious scholars of all faiths must take the lead in spreading a culture of tolerance and moderation, criticising extremist interpretations and misinterpretations of the religious texts used by the terrorist Takfiris and their followers.”

AMAR’s General Director in Iraq, Dr Ali Muthanna (centre), with delegates.

The delegates called on the new Iraqi leadership to “concentrates all efforts” on deepening the paths of co-existence and co-operation among all Iraqi citizens no matter what faith or ethnic origin.

This could be achieved by “building a society free from racism and sectarianism based on freedom of belief and opinion for all, renouncing all forms of violence and extremism and eliminating all forms of discrimination and hatred.”

The conference concluded that education was also invaluable in helping to spread the culture of tolerance and love and helping enshrine the values ​​of citizenship through the educational curricula.

Dr Ali continued: “We must empower women in our society, not only within their own families, but at work and in education. Women have a vital role to play in preventing violence and we must offer them legal and social protection to ensure they have a more active role in their communities.”

On the second day of the conference, delegates heard from three leading members of the Yazidi administrative council, and from a senior member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Elder Tony Perkins.

Elder Perkins pointed out that there were many similarities between the suffering experienced by members of the fledgling Mormon religion in the early 19th century and the Yazidis’ experiences today.

The Mormons were hounded out of many US States and had to flee further West each time, finally ending up in the desert of Utah where they eventually set up home. Along the way they faced extreme violence, threats and abuse. In the state of Missouri, they were even subjected to an “extermination order”.

Elder Perkins said they had overcome the relentless persecution of those early years and were now an extremely successful community with much influence not just in the United States but around the world.  This was an example that the Yazidis could take heart from and realise that there was a future beyond this recent dark period.

Members of the Yazidi panel took time to explain to the other religious leaders the suffering endured by their people at the hands of ISIS. Thousands murdered, kidnapped, tortured and enslaved.

More than 3,000 women and girls were still missing, the majority believed to be in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of others were still forced to live in IDP camps, uncertain of whether they can ever go home.

The Yazidis suggested that a way to keep their community safe was for the Iraqi government to create a new governorate exclusively for them in the Sinjar region. It would have its own police force, political leaders, courts and community centres.

In her closing remarks, Baroness Nicholson said so much physical violence comes from religious persecution and “violence leads to more violence. Violence does not make peace.”

She said she would be inviting those attending the conference to join the Windsor movement to pursue “the wonderful philosophy” contained in the first day’s final communique.

“I would suggest, for the Yazidis in particular, that we should be trying to assist their move from despair to success, from degradation to respect, from a hatred to a real human love for the other.”

The Baroness said it was all entirely possible. The Church of Jesus Christ the Latter Day Saints had shown that very clearly. “There is a map, a plan, that can be followed.”

(Source: AMAR)

By Hussein Al-alak. Republished with permission.

Read All About It! The humble book is helping rebuild lives in Iraq

To mark World Book Day, the UK-based charity, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation published these photographs from their school in Basra, Iraq. Each uplifting image demonstrates how AMAR is making positive changes to the lives of Iraqi children, through the power of the written word.

The School for Orphans was built in 2016 and up to 30% of the children who attend have lost both parents to war or disease. The school has modern facilities and provides a broad curriculum, so children get the best start in life. One of their main focuses is on reading.

The AMAR Foundation builds and rehabilitates educational facilities across Iraq, ensuring access to safe, clean classrooms and provides additional infrastructure, so the overall experience for children is conducive to successful learning.

According to the National Literary Trust and Manchester City Council, “Every community faces different challenges and we need local solutions.” For example, “reading for 10 minutes every day can help you relax, learn and feel good.”

By reading, we improve our literacy levels, increase educational achievements and future employment skills, along with improving our own health and social skills. As Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once stated: “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. A love of books is the best of all.”

From Manchester to Iraq – building a global village in education

AMAR is rebuilding the lives of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Iraq. With Manchester being home to almost 20,000 Iraqi ex-patriates – many of whom escaped from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein – it’s the natural choice to be one of the charity’s first UK appeals centres.

The most recent Iraqi refugees are following in the footsteps of literary giants, such as poet Siegfried Sassoon, whose family arrived in Manchester from Basra in 1858. The British-Lebanese historian Albert Hourani, who was born in Manchester in 1915. His book, A History of the Arab Peoples, was described by Harvard University Press as being “an instant classic upon publication”.

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Iraq’s refugee children were keen visitors to school libraries across the city. Their parents saw it as a means of improving the youngsters’ spoken and written English, thus helping them to integrate into British daily life.

In 2018, Iraqi students at the University of Manchester collected around 1.000 books as part of the international efforts to re-stock the University of Mosul, which was destroyed whilst the city was under the occupation of Islamic State.

AMAR was founded in 1991 and is chaired by Baroness (Emma) Nicholson of Winterbourne. From 1923-1940, David Lindsay – the 27th Earl of Crawford and the grandfather of Baroness Nicholson – was also chancellor of the University of Manchester.

On the 19th May, AMAR supporters are taking part in the Manchester 10K, where they will be supporting the charity’s efforts in education across Iraq. Since its foundation, more than 5 million Iraqi children and adults have benefited from its services in education.

If you wish to learn more about AMAR’s work, please check out www.amarfoundation.org or you can support AMAR’s work in Iraq, by making a solidarity donation online.

Hussein Al-alak is the editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra) and on the 19th May, will be taking part on the Manchester 10K, to support the AMAR Foundation’s work in education across Iraq.

By Kate Denereaz, for the AMAR International Charitable Foundation.

Work is a huge part of our lives. It provides security, meaning and a sense of belonging. It’s part of who we are.

Many AMAR staff, like the people they serve, have been displaced by war and violence. Working for AMAR provides structure and a semblance of normality.

But work means many different things to different people. To mark International Women’s Day, we’re asking some of the women of our workforce, “what does working for AMAR mean to you?

Click here to hear their stories.

(Source: AMAR)