One in three children who experienced repeated displacement in Iraq have developed fear for their safety and trauma, a new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) shows.
The new figures highlight the impact of protracted displacement for tens of thousands of Iraqis, years after military operations with the Islamic State (IS) ended. Over 100,000 people still live in informal sites, or makeshift shelters with minimal to no basic amenities, public services, or protection.
Children interviewed by NRC described how fear for their personal safety is a source of stress that has stopped them from leaving home or going to school. Past experiences of violence and repeated displacement have had detrimental consequences on their physical and psychological wellbeing and motivation to learn.
"Life is never normal for the tens of thousands of children who have not had a chance to settle with their families in one safe place," said NRC's Iraq Country Director James Munn. "Having to relocate multiple times means they are deprived of safety and education. They risk becoming forgotten."
"More donor investment in mental health support and civil documentation is needed. This must take place while families are supported to improve their living conditions and acquire civil documents they urgently need," added Munn.
Displaced female students are particularly at risk. Those interviewed recounted incidents of harassment in the community on their way to school that have derailed their safety and prevented them from continuing their studies.
"We have been away from our home, moving for years, until we relocated to these random shelters. There is nothing here; we had to take our children out of school and send them to work so we can survive. Sometimes what they earn is not enough for their commute. These are futures lost," said Zahra, who was displaced with her children three times and now lives in Bzebez informal site in Fallujah district.
"Services are non-existent. You can't see a doctor, and there is no drinking water. We have tried borrowing money and selling our mattresses and food for the cost of a doctor's appointment. We want to go back home where we can work the land and send the children to school," Zahra said.
NRC is urging donors, humanitarian and development actors to prioritise psychosocial support, teacher training, and school infrastructure in informal settlements. Further, NRC asks the Government of Iraq to work alongside partners to adapt reintegration services for children in informal settlements and streamline processes to acquire civil documentation for undocumented children.