Addressing the legal needs of the displaced in Southern Iraq

Originally published


After the fall of the Ba’thist regime in 2003, displacement in Iraq resulted in loss or destruction documentation and registries with serious consequences for individuals and communities, including restricted freedom of movement, limited access to life-saving assistance and services, exposure to harassment or arbitrary arrest and detention, and the risk of statelessness. A problem compounded by the issuing of new documents and compilation of new registries by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the following exclusion from citizen’s rights of many among the IDPs living in the country.

In this context INTERSOS, in partnership with UNHCR, has implemented a Protection and Assistance Centers program in five areas (Chibayish, Qadissiyah and Muthanna, Basrah and Nassiriyah) which has supported over 10.000 Persons of Concern in 2010. The objective of the initiative was to ensure fair protection processes and documentation for IDPs and returnees and local communities, primarily through the strengthening of civil status documentation.

In approaching the issue INTERSOS has employed a needs-based and flexible approach to protection using both physical offices and mobile teams which ensured coverage in rural areas, and tracked cases and trends within the IDP population through constant Protection Monitoring activities. In identifying beneficiaries INTERSOS adopted a holistic approach, based on their vulnerability as well as their category. Particular efforts were made to address GBV cases such as domestic violence, child custody, alimony and divorce addressed through mediation, legal and social counseling. Consequently beneficiaries of the initiative have been both IDPs and host communities so that grievances linked to the presence and support offered by the organization were avoided.

Some major challenges faced by INTERSOS in the implementation of the program have included: a weak referral system to track back cases to the place of origin of displaced; the inconsistent enforcement of relevant legislation in the various areas of the country; and the lack of coordination between the national and local level. These have forced INTERSOS to employ a flexible and creative approach to legal protection in order to ensure needs to be met at comparable standards across the area of intervention.

As the Protection Assistance Centers are now being handed over to local civil society organizations, in order to ensure their future sustainability, some key lessons learned can be distilled:

• First, participation at the beneficiary level is of paramount importance. Thus, replication of the programme should be based on the assumption that the displaced actually understand the importance of the service provided. Something that may not be easily achieved, particularly in the first phase of an emergency, whereas legal protection may be perceived as of minor importance in respect to other sectors of intervention.

• Coordination with UNHCR has been essential for the success of the program and shall be established from the outset in any future endeavor. In fact UNHCR role in countrywide coordination and leadership of the entire operation have been crucial for the achievement of the overall objectives of the program.

• Third, volatility of funding and donor’s fatigue tends to undermine efforts in the long run for this kind of programs. In particular, due to the protracted nature of the Iraqi displacement funding may be subject to change, posing significant challenges to the implementation of the activities and to the progressive achievement of durable solutions. Consequently mechanisms for long-term donor’s engagement shall be implemented as stable assistance from donors is of paramount importance to achieve success in the long term.