Malteser International’s crucial contribution to stability in Iraq
Pope Francis trip a much-needed signal of hope for a country wounded by years of violence
When Daesh swept through northern Iraq in 2014, Qaraqosh, a small Christian town in the Nineveh Plains, was among the places ravaged by the militants. 46-year-old Hana Touma knew there was only one thing to do: flee to safety. Her husband did not make it in time for the departure. After weeks of anxious waiting and an ordeal with security forces, he was finally reunited with the family in a camp for displaced people in Erbil. “Life was much better back in the day,” Hana recalls. “My husband worked as a guard and we were doing quite well.”
Following the defeat of Daesh and the liberation of occupied cities in 2017, displaced families have trickled back, but many are still in exile. They are either unable to return because of the lack of economic opportunities or unwilling because of fear.
In 2018, Malteser International, the worldwide relief agency of the Order of Malta, committed 30 million euros to support the return of displaced communities in the Nineveh Plains. Last week, a delegation from Germany visited the region to assess the activities implemented over the course of the past three years.
“The charred remains of houses and defaced churches we have seen here are some of the reminders of the atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities,” says Clemens Graf von Mirbach-Harff, Malteser International’s Secretary General, who was part of the delegation including Erich Prinz von Lobkowicz, President of the German Association of the Order of Malta, and Georg Khevenhüller, President of Malteser Hilfsdienst Germany.
“Malteser International’s Ninewa Return Program is our contribution to efforts aimed at stabilizing the region,” he continues. “The multifaceted program we designed encompasses several components all aimed at providing real perspectives for those who had been driven away from their ancestral homes”.
In addition to delivering sustainable and dignified shelter through the reconstruction of damaged homes, Malteser International provided cash grants and business development support to enhance livelihoods and boost economic development for families. Working through partners, an educational component of the program increased access to quality education for returning children by way of school rehabilitation and teacher training with emphasis on trauma support.
“Since 2018, Malteser International has helped to rebuild and repair over 2,000 houses, schools, and playgrounds. Families are returning home, knowing their children can go to school,” says Mirbach-Harff. “But a homecoming does not matter if there is no peace. Therefore, we have also promoted social cohesion and peacebuilding through community integration activities that have reached over 50,000 young people.”
The Ninewa Return Program was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). “This program has led to a monumental improvement in the lives of people here,” says Erich Prinz von Lobkowicz, President of the German Association of the Order of Malta. “I am standing in a refurbished sports complex which was destroyed during the war. We and the people here are most grateful to the support we have received from Germany.”
Early this month, Pope Francis made the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. The historic trip aimed to promote cultural dialogue and a culture of convergence and inclusiveness. “The apostolic trip of His Holiness is a much-needed salve that signals hope for a country that has been wounded by years of violence” says Mirbach-Harff. “Alongside our partners, we have worked to make it possible for thousands of families to return. But reconciliation is the next and biggest challenge.”
Prior to Daesh occupation, some 50,000 people lived in Qaraqosh. Only half of that population has returned, among them Hana and her family. Shortly after their return in 2018, Hana’s husband passed away. She and her family now live with her brother whose house was reconstructed as part of Malteser International’s Ninewa Return Program. “My husband’s pension is barely enough to cover our living expenses,” she says. “But there is a sense that things will get better.”
Join Malteser International for a discussion on Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq and the implications for regional peace
Date: Friday, March 19, 2021
Time: 20:30 CET (15:30 EST)