After War's Devastation, IOCC
|Volume 12, No. 3
Helps Refugees Rebuild Their Lives
Amman, Jordan Three years ago, Iman and her family left everything and fled Baghdad's violence for Amman, Jordan. "'You have twelve hours to leave the country,' they told us," recounts Iman, "so we left." But good jobs are in short supply in Jordan so Iman's husband, a skilled surgeon, relocated to Sudan, itself a volatile
and war-torn country.
The United Nations estimates there are approximately 42 million refugees worldwide (both individuals displaced to a foreign country as well as those displaced inside their country). Millions of refugees languish in shelters for years, dependent on others for the basics.
Refugees and displaced persons face special problems: the relief of escaping wars or natural disasters gives way to the stress of having to start their lives over, usually with few belongings. Compounding the tragedy of losing everything is the challenge of living in a country that may not grant you its nationality or recognize your own. Those who have no nationality are estimated to be between 11-12 million people worldwide. Infants and youth suffer the most as their lack of nationality keeps them from a public education or government services.
From its inception, IOCC has helped refugees. In 1992, IOCC's office in Belgrade, Serbia delivered emergency supplies to Bosnia where thousands were displaced by civil war. IOCC then assisted these families to rebuild their farms and restart livelihoods.
Today, IOCC helps tens of thousands of refugees and displaced families in Georgia, Syria, Jordan and Iraq by providing food, medicine, hygiene supplies, psychological counseling, education for children and vocational training for young people.
Syria has absorbed 1.2 million of the 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced since 2003. Since 2007, IOCC has invested nearly $10 million to provide vocational training (car repair, culinary arts, sewing, cell phone repair, and hair styling) for Iraqi youth as well as educational support for children, and hygiene supplies for thousands of Iraqi and Syrian families. Vocational training affords Iraqis with their best chance at finding work.
In Jordan, IOCC assisted 1,600 Iraqi refugees with art and drama therapy programs designed to help reduce the lasting psychological effects that displacement has on Iraqi refugee children. This program, funded by Action by Churches Together (ACT), also provided training in computer literacy, sewing, handicrafts and hair styling for Iraqi women. Iman and her sons enrolled in IOCC computer literacy classes giving them marketable skills and a diversion from worrying about their future as refugees.
In Georgia, 38,000 individuals were internally displaced after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. The government built permanent housing for thousands of displaced persons. However, many will likely never see their villages again and must find work. In a program also funded by ACT, IOCC and the Georgian Orthodox Church are providing social workers and counselors to direct support groups, therapy sessions, and art classes to help children work through their war trauma. "Some people – especially the men – do not feel comfortable coming to the self-help groups, so I come to them," says Rusudan Ksovreli, a social worker who is part of the IOCC team. "I help them with any need they might have, from helping them fill out paperwork to putting them in touch with a priest."