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Protecting children, in Domiz refugee camp, Iraq

© 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.

By David Morley

President and CEO of UNICEF Canada David Morley visits programmes geared towards helping Syrian refugee children feel - and stay - safe in Domiz camp, 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 Emergency Communication Specialist here.

“That’s what I thought, too,” she replied. “But Kurdistan is heavily landmined, and I’m not sure if it is 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, socialize, read and be together. It is a safe space in which children can regain a sense of normalcy, which helps their psychosocial recovery. 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 young children’s activities.

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 Specialist, explained to me this afternoon. “Having had to flee Syria and live in a refugee camp with no certainty of what the future holds is not easy. People here have had their lives torn apart, many have left family members behind, some have had their houses destroyed and have used up their savings to travel here; the camp is overcrowded, and, in some cases, people are living two families to a tent. In such uncertain and stressful situations, parents are concerned with what they have left behind, with rebuilding their lives here in Kurdistan, and can feel quite anxious about the present and the future. This makes it difficult for them to provide the comfort, care and stability that children need to recover.”

Julie said that children and teenagers said that the most difficult thing for them was not being able to go to school; despite the efforts of the humanitarian community and the government of Kurdistan to set up schools in the camp, not every child is accessing education, at present. Access to education is one of the most important ways to protect children – it gives a structure to the day, and it builds for the future.

But not all children are in school, and no secondary school has opened yet. One 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 the stress of current living conditions together with the uncertain future that Syrians are facing may prove to be far more harmful still.

Updated 15 July 2013



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