Protecting children in Domiz refugee camp, Iraq

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© UNICEF Canada/2013
A young boy holds his landmine awareness colouring book in Domiz camp, Iraq. 'What a world we live in, when children need colouring books to learn how to avoid being killed or maimed by a landmine,' writes President and CEO of UNICEF Canada David Morley.

Recently, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada David Morley visited Domiz refugee camp in Iraq.

DOMIZ CAMP, Iraq, 27 June 2013 – You drive over the mountains that surround Dohuk City and Domiz refugee camp opens up before you – a community of 45,000 people that wasn’t there just a year ago.

The mountains around Dohuk have a stark beauty. “It would be great to hike up there,” I said to Wendy, our Communications Officer here.

“That’s what I thought, too,” she replied. “But this is one of the most heavily landmined regions in the world – it’s just not safe to go up there.”

Child-friendly space

The child-friendly space in the camp certainly feels safe – and that’s the point, of course. Here, the children can play and read and be together – it’s like a preschool, and afterschool or a youth drop-in centre – it depends on the time of day. We were there for the preschool time.

The children got out their books – there were books on dinosaurs and sports, but the ones most of them were working on were landmine awareness colouring books. They showed me pictures of the symbols, which show where a minefield is and what different mines and unexploded ordnance look like.

What a world we live in, when children need colouring books to learn how to avoid being killed or maimed by a landmine.

Child protection

But this is only part of our child protection programme, which Julie, our Child Protection Officer, explained to me this afternoon. “It is so hard for people here. They have had their lives blown up, and now they are living two families to a tent. They are anxious; parents hardly have the comfort and stability they need to care for their children – who have been traumatized, too.” In these difficult, overcrowded situations, the chance of increased violence against children goes up, too.

As Julie and her team worked with children and teenagers, they heard time and time again that the most difficult thing for them was not being able to go to school. This is one of the most important ways to protect children – it gives a structure to the day, and it builds for the future.

A new school is planned, but the already stretched resources of the Kurdistan government can only go so far, and there is a large funding gap.

The landmines are the most obvious sign of the damage that can and has been done to children in this part of the world. But, the long-term effect of no school and traumatic living may prove to be far more harmful, still.

Story by David Morley

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