09/20/2010, 00.00
IRAQ
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Poverty and unemployment among northern Christians

by Layla Yousif Rahema
Families living in villages in Zakho District are worn out by the lack of work, food and basic services. “We depend entirely on aid from humanitarian organisations and the Church,” some say. Children have a hard time integrating in schools where Kurdish is the language of education.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraqi families that fled north have to endure unemployment, poverty, lack of basic services, shortages of food and fuel and poor prospects. Many of them are Christian from Baghdad and Mosul and found refuge in Zakho District, Dohuk Governatorate (Iraqi Kurdistan). After years, their living conditions have not improved. Ankawa.com recently published a report on their dramatic situation.

Unemployment remains the main problem. The main breadwinners have had to seek work in Baghdad or nearby Erbil. Children have had to quit schools unable to study in Kurdish, a language they do not know. Those can study often do not have the money to buy school material, which is expensive given the wages of average families. Joblessness is closely related to the fact that when work is available, it is in the farming sector, whilst most migrants come from cities and do not have the necessary experience to work on farms.

In practical terms, survival depends on aid provided by humanitarian organisations operating in the area and the Church. Representatives of the local Christian community are able to provide families with US$ 50 a month, which is inadequate to help even the smallest of families.

Food prices are rising because of the lack of control by the authorities. Many families get food rations provided by the government but only in their place of origin. However, travelling to Baghdad, Basra or Mosul to get them means paying for high transportation costs and especially take risks given the insecurity that prevails in those areas.

Food is not the only thing in short supply. Getting fuel and basic services is also an uphill battle. The Kurdish government provides free medical coverage as well as water and electricity but all other public services are in a poor state. Roads are rundown or in ruin. Villages and towns are unclean. All this contributes to disease and epidemics. Adequate housing is also in scarce supply for those who fled the cities in the past six years. Many are forced to live in convents or parish buildings, two or three families per room.

With families going through their savings, poverty is widespread. For young people, the future at home is bleak, given the country’s instability and deadlocked political situation. Emigration, legal or not, is seen by many as the only hope, but the lack of means makes it hard to do.

Frustration and depression are widespread, closely linked to the realisation that everything has been lost. Families from Baghdad’s Dora neighbourhood say they left their homes into the care of neighbours, but armed gangs have seized them by force. Similarly, women have been forced to wear the veil and Christian residents now have to pay the Jizya, the poll tax for non-Muslims.

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