Iraq’s IDPs get to Express a Choice

By Randa Jamal
Iraq’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are estimated at approximately 1.5 million. Enduring hardships, lack of opportunities and scarcity of resources, they strive to make ends meet while remaining optimistic about the future. Many of them took part in the Parliamentary Election, held on 7 March 2010. From their lens, some recount the reasons behind casting their ballots.


For instance, 25 year-old Kawthar Talib is responsible for three boys after her husband was killed in Abu Ghreib in 2006. These conditions didn’t deter the 25 year-old from voting. On the contrary, “Voting for the country’s future is necessary and although it took me more than an hour to get to the voting center, it is worth it”. Now Residing in the Chikuk Camp, designated for widows and lies on the outskirts of Baghdad, Kawthar contends that IDPs must participate in elections and links her voter awareness to several facts, including visits made by employees of the Independent High Election Commission (IHEC). They provided information on the locations of various voting stations, where IDPs are registered, as well as material promoting voter education. “My hope is for the upcoming government to provide us with security, change and opportunities”. She grimly noted, “My children and I feel vulnerable and we yearn for better living conditions”. She hopes that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will continue extending humanitarian assistance. Kawthar has two sisters, both of whom lost their husbands in 2006, now living with their children in her family’s one bedroom house. “There is no space for me and my children in the one room house; Chikuk is our only option right now”, she lamented.


Kawthar is not alone, Lamya Buttress shares similar feelings, “Chikuk camp is the best option for the time being”. Born in 1970, Lamya is now the sole family taker for her 7 children (4 boys and 3 girls). Originally the family resided in Ba’quba of Diyala’s province where her husband was tragically killed in October of 2006. Right after, Lamya and her children opted to join the ranks of the widows taking refuge in the Chikuk camp. Lamya feels strongly about voting and had an active role during the election period. She was a political agent representing Al-Shaheed Al Mihrab entity /the Iraqi National Alliance, who observed the process on Election Day. Similar to Kawthar, she attributes her voter awareness to the IHEC staff visits, informing them about their voting rights. “Television Ads on Parliamentary Elections were also instrumental in raising awareness”, she stressed. “However”, she complained, “some faced problems trying to find their names on Election Day and had to go to several centers”. Later in the day, a center opened in Qassem Ibn Al-Hassan School and therefore “a good bulk managed to vote, and others didn’t”. As for her, she got a call from Al-Sadeq Institution informing her of being registered at the I’dadiyat Al Shu’la School. She then left for an hour to vote. Feeling strongly about this election, “I hope it will bring those in power to extend a hand to us, the widows and the vulnerable”, she stressed. She also aspires for a better security situation, freedoms, and for the creation of job opportunities for the women and youth in the camp. Emphasizing empowerment, “I hope for job opportunities for us to become less dependent on NGOs and international organizations”. Personally, she prefers to have a job to empower women and children in the camp.


Other IDPs, like 39 year-old Ahmad Abdulkareem, feels that voting is necessary to bring about security, infrastructure, job opportunities and attention to vulnerable people. “It was useful that IHEC visited our area and told us where we could vote, including instructions on how to vote”, he emphasized. Now living in Mujama’ Al-Manar in Doora of Baghdad, he hopes the security situation will improve to allow him along with his wife and daughter to go back to Basra, where they lived prior to 2003


Similarly, 35-year-old Qais Zaboun perceived a well organized election for Chikuk’s IDPs. Originally from Ghazalia of Baghdad, Qais, his wife and 6 children (3 boys and 3 girls) were displaced in 2006. Unlike Kawthar, Lamyaa, and Ahmad, he says that they were informed about the election and where to go for voting by a local NGO called Mussassat Iraq Al Salam Al Insania (Iraqi Al Salam Humanitarian Institution), based in Chikuk. “They informed us about the locations of voting stations and ensured that our names are registered”, he said. “On behalf of those who were not, the NGO got in touch with the IHEC and as a result those unregistered voted, using conditional balloting, at Al Qassem Ibn Al-Hassan voting center”, he said. “This NGO along with UNHCR provides us with services and humanitarian assistance. They cleaned up the entire area and delivered Non Food Items, including furnaces, blankets, etc”, he shared.


On voter education, he said that he is more knowledgeable about elections and the meaning of expressing a choice. He expects the upcoming government to provide the people with security, stability and job opportunities. For now, “we hope to stay in Chikuk and for UNHCR to continue visiting on regular basis and as far as protection, it is better for us to stay here”, he stressed.


With a mandate on Protection, Humanitarian and Emergency Assistance, the UNHCR played a significant role in ensuring that IDPs get to vote. The UNHCR Representative for Iraq Daniel Endres said, “We drew the attention of the IHEC and UNAMI to the locations of approximately 1.5 million IDPs”. Additionally they assisted the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) in the registration of IDPs and then the lists of those registered were later used by the IHEC for the registration of IDP absentee voting. UNHCR also mobilized for support awareness campaigns through MoDM, Endres said. Even though the deadline was set for updating voter registry last year in August, Endres stressed that every effort was made by IHEC to ensure that Iraq’s IDPs participate in the electoral process, including the most recently displaced groups. For example at the beginning of March (only a week ahead of the election), Christian Iraqi families fled violence of Mosul to other parts of Ninewah’s province. To ensure they vote, two voting centers were established in Qaraqosh and Tilkaif, areas in which IDPs were displaced.


IHEC opened 1100 polling stations for IDPs registered for absentee voting. In addition to this 541 polling stations were opened for absentee voters to make a choice using conditional ballots. Eligibility of those who voted by conditional ballots was later verified by the Governorate Election Office Count Center and once verified, IDPs votes were counted.


Ultimately, Ahmad, Kawthar, Lamya and Qais got to cast ballots. With a boosted awareness, participating in forging their country’s future underlined their overriding concerns centered on security, stability, and job opportunities, that in parallel with the general sentiments echoed by Iraq’s population that had for decades suffered from war, conflict, sanctions and occupation. However, and from their lens, they are, more or less, optimistic about their future.


Note: Special thanks to UNHCR’s Representative for Iraq Daniel Endres and his team for providing the opportunity to speak to Iraqi IDPs.

Last modified on Friday, 02 April 2010 03:00

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