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Displaced children in Iraq tell their stories

© UNICEF/UN035107/Anmar
Noor fled her home in Haji Ali and is now taking shelter with her family in Debaga Camp. "I don't want to go back to a different school. I miss my school in Haji Ali," she said.

By Sharon Behn and Juliette Touma

Violence and insecurity in northern Iraq have caused displacement throughout the region. Hear from the children living in Debaga Camp, whose lives have been upended.

DEBAGA CAMP, Erbil, Iraq, 26 October 2016 – There are more than 16,000 children in Debaga Camp, displaced from various areas in northern Iraq. Many of these children have lived under the so-called Islamic State and walked long hours with their families to reach safety.

UNICEF visited the camp this week to look in on our child-friendly spaces, schools and vaccination facilities. When we arrived, the children rushed towards us, held our hands, and did not stop talking. It is time their voices are heard. These are some of their stories.

© UNICEF/UN037021/Anmar
Amir, 6, poses for a photo in Debaga Camp.

Maher,* 14, has been in Debaga camp for just 15 days. Maher described how he and his little sister Zahra and his parents walked for over 15 hours to reach this camp. He pointed to his feet and his pair of worn out plastic slippers. “We walked from the time of the morning call to prayer to the evening call to prayer. I walked in these shoes.”


“We walked from the time of the morning call to prayer to the
evening call to prayer. I walked in these shoes.”



Haitham,* 12, said he had not been in school for almost two years. “The only school I could go to was a Daesh school,” he said, using the local term for the so-called Islamic State. ”They only wanted to teach us how to use guns,” he continued, pretending to shoot with his hands. “But I didn’t want to. I don’t want to use guns, I don’t like guns.” All he wanted, Haitham said, was to go back to a normal school.


“They only wanted to teach us how to use guns.
But I didn’t want to.”



Hassan,* a feisty 9-year-old, pushed himself into the crowd of children. He was determined to have his say, and explained how his family had ran out of money and food. Poverty was what pushed his family out. “All we had to eat was eggplants.” Zahra jumped into the conversation “we had bulgur too!” 


“I walked for hours on end, carrying my two baby girls.”


Sana* looked like she was only about 18 years old. Her face covered, she also wanted to talk. She said she had three children. “I walked for hours on end, carrying my two baby girls,” she said. She did not mention her third child again.

© UNICEF/UN037022/Anmar
A boy displaced by conflict in the Mosul Corridor poses for a photo in Debaga Camp.

It was a short visit. But the children’s voices and stories confirmed that even though they are so young, these Iraqi children have already had a lifetime of suffering.

“Children are at the very centre of this conflict. Many of these children are in a state of shock. They need a safe place to play, learn and aspire, to be able to be children once again,” said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in Iraq.

Across Iraq, 4.7 million children have been directly affected by the conflict and 3.5 million children are out of school. UNICEF estimates that more than half a million children could still be in Mosul, where a military operation to retake the northern Iraqi city is fully under way.

UNICEF is committed to helping all of them.

>>  Learn more about the humanitarian needs of children in Iraq


*These children have not been pictured to protect their identities.



UNICEF Photography: Childhoods cut short

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