• December 13, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The colorful hijabs of the women and the smoke of the hookahs welcome the patrons at Book Forum (Multaqi al-Kitab), a literary cafe near the University of Mosul, in the eastern part of the city. Old photos of Mosul in the 1930s and portraits of poets and writers decorate the walls. 

The famous Arab 10th-century poet Al-Mutanabbi shares the same wall with Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and both enjoy the company of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian master of 19th-century novels. It was difficult to imagine a place like Book Forum a year ago, when the Iraqi government announced the defeat of the Islamic State (IS), which had taken control of a third of the Iraqi territories. 

But the literary cafe opened its doors on Jan. 1. Book Forum attracts both women and men, and especially students. Maslawis — as the people in Mosul are known in Iraq — enjoy getting together at the cafe to talk, read and smoke the hookah. The bookshelves are filled with thousands of Arabic novels, poetry books and masterpieces of the past, in addition to French, English, Spanish and Russian literature. 

Patrons can buy tea, coffee and juices and order pizzas, salads and sandwiches from a nearby cafe and enjoy the meal at Book Forum. “During [IS'] occupation I stayed at our family’s house in west Mosul,” Harith Hussein, a civil engineer and one of the co-founders of Book Forum, told Al-Monitor. 

“At the time, I owned a shop in my neighborhood — al-Ma’moun — for repairing computers and electronic devices. Some IS members — those dressed in qandahari, the Afghan-style pants [that the soldiers wear] — used to come to my shop. I sometimes pretended not be able to repair their computers. I did not want to help them." 

After the liberation of Mosul, Hussein met with Fahd Salah, also an engineer, to talk about opening a literary cafe. “A place like this in Mosul was much needed,” Hussein said. “There was no a mixed-gender place where men and women could sit in the same space and also read.” 

Rou’a Almemari, a young woman studying for a master's degree in agriculture, is responsible for running the bookshop. Five waiters work every day in shifts from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., except for Friday morning when the cafe is closed until 3 p.m. Many university students come to the cafe to study for their exams and to meet their professors. 

Marwa, a French literature student, visited Book Forum in October to meet French writer and traveler Sylvain Tesson. “I did not come simply to listen to a French writer and to practice my French,” Marwa told Al-Monitor. “I came because I am curious to know what he learned about other cultures through his travels.” 

The Facebook page of Book Forum shows its logo, which is a cup of tea shaped like a book with a saucer. More than 11,000 people, including foreign journalists and authors who have visited the cafe or donated books, have liked the cafe's Facebook page. “We brought all our books here, we bought others — some were donated by friends from all over Iraq and abroad,” Hussein noted. 

“We have almost 4.000 books. From France we received a donation of 300.” Some international organizations also donated books. Book Forum organizes performances of the traditional oud, a luth-like Middle Eastern instrument, and poetry evenings. The cafe participates in book fairs, and it encourages writers to publish their texts. 

Sharing 50% of the costs of the publications, authors' books are introduced to the public with a launch event, where the authors tell their story and reads from their book. The cafe also hosts meetings of young civil society activists, who organize workshops and peace-building activities in the region. 

In March, Book Forum organized an event titled "Mosul Talks," where issues such as "governance and social reconciliation in Mosul after IS" and "transitional justice after IS" were discussed. In January, a debate was organized on whether Mosul had lost its identity after two occupations, in collaboration with activists from the “Gilgamesh Center for Antiquities and Heritage Protection.” 

Iraq is renowned in the Middle East for its literary culture. Hussein noted, "Book Forum is in contact with bookstores on the famous Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad and the main publishing houses in the country. When new books are printed, we receive copies.” Hussein said that he wants to heel the wounds of war.

“Whenever I think about the bad memories of war and the occupation, I feel sad. We survived the battles and once our area was liberated by the Iraqi forces, I spent my time burying corpses. I buried 31 bodies together with three men from my neighborhood. Now I only want to touch books,” he concluded. 

Marta Bellingreri is an Italian writer, Arabist and cultural mediator. She has lived and worked in many MENA countries, particularly Tunisia and Jordan. The author of two books about Lampedusa and minor migrants in Tunisia, France and Italy, Bellingreri was also involved in the production of the movies "On the Bride's Side" and "Shores."

  • December 13, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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The legacy of ISIS' three-year reign over large parts of Iraq is extensive, affecting not only the country's vulnerable social fabric and fatigued political system but also decimating its farmland. 

As part of their violent campaign, ISIS sabotaged irrigation systems and wells, destroyed farming infrastructure and vehicles, and set fire to crops and plants. A methodical campaign of fear and violence was compounded by the destruction of livelihoods. 

In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International defined these actions as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The war against ISIS, says the report, severely impacted Iraq’s agricultural production. According to Amnesty estimates, production in 2018 is an estimated 40 per cent lower than it was four years ago and up to 90 per cent of livestock was lost in some areas. 

"Our investigation reveals how IS carried out deliberate, wanton destruction of Iraq’s rural environment around Sinjar Mountain, wreaking havoc on the long-term livelihoods of Yazidis and other agrarian communities," said Richard Pearshouse, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International. 

"Today, hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers and their families can’t return home because IS went out of its way to render farming impossible," he added, using a different acronym for ISIS. Between 2014 and 2017, most towns between Ramadi and the northern city of Mosul were damaged or destroyed in fighting and many of their residents displaced. 

Much of Mosul is still destroyed more than a year after the militants were expelled. The government estimates the total cost of the country's reconstruction at $88 billion. But while the damage to Iraq's countryside has been as widespread as the acts of urban destruction, the effects have been less publicised. 

And as farmlands diminish, Iraq’s wheat import bill will rise – extra spending the country can ill afford. According to the report, ISIS fighters wreaked havoc by tossing rubble, oil and other foreign objects into wells. They also stole or destroyed pumps, cables, generators and transformers and burned or chopped down orchards.  

Northeast of Fallujah, in the small town of Karma, one land-owner returned to his farm after being displaced by ISIS for two years to find that 600 of his 1,000 palm trees had been burned during clashes between ISIS and Iraqi forces. 

The irrigation canals that provided water to the farms had been destroyed too, exacerbating the pre-existing effects of drought. North of Karma in the Yazidi village of Snuni, ISIS fighters had poured oil down one irrigation well and thrown debris in another.

According to the report, the destruction was deliberate and on a broad scale. In and around Snuni alone, up to 450 irrigation wells were put out of use, officials told Amnesty. “[It was] pure destruction. I had a well – 220 metres deep – as well as a generator and an irrigation pipe system. [ISIS] threw rubble in my well and filled it to the top," former farmer Hadi told Amnesty. 

"My trees were chopped down – I could see the [chainsaw] marks. The irrigation system – from the pump to the pipes – was stolen. They did this to send a message: that you have nothing to return to, so if you survive, don’t even think of coming back." 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the total area which has historically been used for agricultural production in Iraq is about eight million hectares – almost 67 per cent of the potential cultivable area. 

However, due to the countless hurdles the country has faced, it is estimated that the average area currently farmed each year ranges from three to four million hectares. "There is nothing left. Now the house is destroyed, and all the trees burned down," Majdal, a farmer in his mid-50s, told Amnesty researchers. 

"We had 100 olive trees, but when I went I didn’t see a single tree in any direction. They were chopped down and burnt… they wanted us to lose everything. They didn’t want us to be able to come back to our land.” 

by Sofia Barbarani

  • December 11, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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More than 150,000 Iraqi children are unprepared for freezing temperatures that are on the way, the United Nations children's agency said Monday. 

Efforts are underway to find hard-to-reach families and supply them with winter clothing. Many are members of the Yazidi ethnic group, who are internally displaced after years of war and violence. 

"Winters in Iraq are harsh. It rains and snows and temperatures can fall below zero in the northern part of the country, where a majority of Yazidi and other displaced children live. It impossible to afford fuel for heating and winter clothing to keep their children warm," UNICEF said in the report Monday. 

"The devastating floods have made this winter even more difficult for displaced children who are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia and respiratory diseases," Peter Hawkins, head of UNICEF operations in Iraq, said in a statement. "No child should be subjected to such risks. Every child deserves to be warm and healthy." 

Earlier Monday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist who was sold into slavery by the Islamic State in 2014. She shared the award with Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

"As the world celebrates Nadia Murad's incredible story of survival and her work for human rights, let us remember that there are many vulnerable children in Iraq who still need our support, even if the worse of the violence may be over," Hawkins said. 

By Ed Adamczyk

  • December 11, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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According to the head of the literacy department at the Directorate General of Education in Basra, Karim Handhal Abdul Karim, student participation in literacy centers in Iraq's southern province of Basra has dwindled in 2018 by more than two-thirds compared to 2013. 

Abdul Karim told the press Nov. 22, "It is such a big contrast when comparing this year’s figures to those of 2013. The number of students in Basra’s 339 literacy centers amounted to over 39,000 in 2013. In 2018, however, only 1,200 students were enrolled in the 21 centers in the province.” 

He attributed the decline to the fact that students enrolled in literacy centers are no longer paid by the government for taking classes at these centers. The waves of displacement in the past four years are a reason behind the surge in the illiteracy rate in the country. More than 3.5 million people resided in camps with few or no schools or educational activities. 

As they returned to their homes in the governorates of Ninevah, Anbar and Salahuddin, they discovered that many of the schools that the Islamic State (IS) had used as a base were destroyed. The official figures that the Ministry of Planning provided to Al-Monitor show that the illiteracy rate increased to 8.3% among Iraqi youths. 

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) estimates the rate to have reached 9%. According to official figures, the youth population in Iraq represents 10.5% of the country’s total population — which is estimated at 38 million people, former Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili told Al-Monitor in 2017. 

This would mean that there are nearly 450,000 illiterate youths in Iraq. Qusay al-Yasiri, a member of the parliamentary Education Committee, stated Nov. 14 that the illiteracy rate has possibly reached 50% in the country. Commenting on this, Yasiri told Al-Monitor, “The illiteracy rate in Iraq ranges between 45% and 50%. Such high figures could generate major problems.” 

He added, “The highest illiteracy rates are found in areas previously held by IS, which witnessed waves of displacement over a period of four years and where poverty rates have increased. This has caused the surge in illiteracy rates in these areas and throughout Iraq as well.” 

In a Nov. 19 press release, UNICEF wrote, “The five governorates with the lowest school enrollment and attendance rates are concentrated in the country’s southern governorates which remain its poorest, and in Anbar and Ninawa.” 

Rezan Sheikh Dler, a former member of the parliamentary Women and Children's Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Illiteracy is spreading wide in the country — particularly among the post-2003 generation. The waves of displacement since the start of the sectarian problems in the country in 2006 have had a grievous impact. 

While 10% of the children were not enrolled in schools, many of those who attended [classes] dropped out.” Al-Monitor obtained the IHCHR statistics that indicate a total of 132,000 students across the country dropped out of school. IHCHR member Anas al-Azzawi told Al-Monitor, “The IHCHR pointed at the elevated illiteracy rate in the country — particularly among the youths. Based on that, we started developing a strategy to lessen these rates to be submitted to the government.” 

He added, “There are multiple factors that caused the illiteracy rate to increase, including a shortage in literacy centers and the need for an educational infrastructure. In addition, the security, economic and social crises wreaked havoc in the country and the previous governments failed to assume an efficient role in this regard.” 

In 1971, Iraq promulgated a law to combat illiteracy, which reduced the illiteracy rate to 20% by 1987, according to UNESCO. UNESCO, however, indicated that the halt of education programs for adults since 1987 had increased the illiteracy rate to nearly 30% in rural areas by 2018. 

Moreover, as a result of abolishing laws that the Revolutionary Command Council under the former regime had passed, a new law was enacted in 2011. IHCHR member Faten al-Hilfi said that the law to combat illiteracy fell short. She pointed out that women made up half of the 18% of Iraqis who are illiterate and are unable to read or write. 

Between 2012 and 2017, 1.6 million students graduated from literacy centers in Iraq, which indicates the high number of illiterates. It also indicates that those enrolled in literacy centers do not exceed 15% of those who can't read or write. 

Experts believe that IS control over large parts of Iraq is a significant reason behind the high illiteracy rate in the country, in addition to a shortage of educational institutions, lack of financial allocations and educational staff. Illiteracy cannot be eradicated in Iraq as happened in the 1970s or 1980s, or at least reduced, unless the law is activated and target groups are getting paid to enroll. 

Access to job opportunities and participation in advanced educational programs once students have graduated from literacy centers could be among the incentives. 

Mustafa Saadoun is an Iraqi journalist covering human rights and also the founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights. He formerly worked as a reporter for the Iraqi Council of Representatives.

  • December 09, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Millions of Iraqis are still destitute one year since the Iraqi government declared victory against the so-called Islamic State group. Too many of them are homeless or in camps they are not allowed to leave. This makes them unable to rebuild their lives. 

More than 1.8 million Iraqis are today still displaced across the country. A staggering 8 million require some form of humanitarian aid. Thousands of children born under IS rule are still unrecognized by the state. 

In the last three months a third of the displaced people who returned home from just one camp in Anbar were rejected by their local communities and had to relocate again elsewhere. 

“If this is what ‘victory’ looks like, then there is little to celebrate for millions of Iraqis still haunted by the crimes of the IS and the long war to eliminate it. They have largely been forgotten by their own government and the international community,” said Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland. 

“We work with thousands of ordinary Iraqi women, children and men for whom untold suffering continues, and yet the world seems to act as if Iraq is back to normal. In reality, besides the abject poverty the displaced are living in, thousands face collective punishment for having been at the wrong place at the wrong time, even if they’re just children.” 

While violence and fighting have decreased considerably over the last year, nearly two thirds of displaced people have said they are unwilling or unable to return home in the next year. More than half of them had their homes damaged or destroyed. Entire cities like Mosul and Sinjar are still in rubble. 

The Iraqi government, together with the international community, particularly members of the coalition, has a responsibility to ensure that Iraq is on a path towards inclusive recovery and reconstruction. This means the rights of displaced people—like all Iraqi citizens—must be respected, for them to be able to rebuild their lives where they choose.

  • December 09, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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A UN team authorised over a year ago to investigate the massacre of the Yazidi minority and other atrocities by jihadists in Iraq will finally begin work early next year, the head of the investigation said Tuesday. 

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in September 2017 to bring those responsible for Islamic State group war crimes to justice -- a cause championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. 

The team, led by British lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, was deployed to Baghdad in October, but has since focused on administrative and technical details to lay the groundwork for the probe. "The investigative team now looks forward to continuing preparations in Iraq with a view to commencing investigative activities in early 2019," Ahmad Khan told the council during his first report. 

The Iraqi government had resisted calls for the UN probe and the head of the investigative team stressed that much effort had been deployed to ensure cooperation from Baghdad. Ahmad Khan told the council that "the realization of our investigative activities is dependent on securing the cooperation, support and trust of all elements of Iraqi society." 

The United Nations has described the massacre of the Yazidis by IS jihadists as possible genocide and UN rights investigators have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls. Nadia Murad is among thousands of Yazidi women who were taken hostage and held as sex slaves when IS fighters swept into Iraq's Sinjar region in August 2014. 

The investigators will gather evidence on war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide for use in Iraqi courts that will hold trials for IS militants, according to the UN resolution. More than 200 mass graves containing up to 12,000 bodies have been recently discovered in Iraq, providing evidence of war crimes by IS. 

The United States announced it will provide $2 million to support the work of the investigative team, known as UNITAD, the UN investigative team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Daesh, an Arabic acronym for IS. 

After being awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, Murad said she wanted IS jihadists to face trial in a courtroom. "For me, justice doesn't mean killing all of the Daesh members who committed these crimes against us," she said in October. "Justice for me is taking Daesh members to a court of law and seeing them in court admitting to the crimes they committed against Yazidis and being punished for those crimes specifically," she said in October. 


  • December 08, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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As in many places, women who work in law enforcement in Iraq have yet to achieve equality with their male counterparts, but they're making progress. 

The Rescue Directorate of the Ministry of Interior deployed Nov. 17 a group of policewomen to patrol the streets of Baghdad and monitor the gates of girls’ schools, colleges, institutes and markets in a bid to combat harassment in public places. 

That's just one aspect of their jobs. First Lt. Sulaf Kazem Jaber, who works in the Adhamiya Traffic Section, performs her daily job on the street wearing her official uniform. She shared with Al-Monitor how the community’s perception of her work as a policewoman has changed since she began working for the traffic police in 2008. 

“During the first year of my work, my colleagues and I faced many difficulties and were looked down upon. Today, people have become accustomed to our presence on the street and have started treating us with greater respect," she said. "Our [male] colleagues are very considerate of our situation. They exempt us from night guarding missions to help us spend as much time as possible with our children,” she added. 

The Rescue and Traffic Directorates and the Community and Domestic Violence Police work under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior and include a significant number of women, most of whom are required to patrol the streets. 

The total number of female civil servants, policewomen and officers working at the Ministry of Interior has reached 12,070, according to ministry sources, who didn't want their names revealed because they're not authorized to make media statements. 

The Police Academy confirmed the graduation of 158 female police officers between 2011 and 2017 and said that 25 more are to graduate in next July. Of note, women have only been allowed to take part in four of the academy’s 66 sessions held to date. 

However, 170 female officers have graduated from the Interior Ministry's Higher Institute for Security and Administrative Development with higher diplomas in security sciences since 2011, and 50 women, including 25 who hold doctorates or master's degrees, are now completing their studies there. 

These graduates become specialists in areas such as investigation and criminology. Capt. Shaimaa Ali Ibrahim, head of the Women's Division at the Community Police Directorate, was among the first to graduate from the institute in 2011 and is set to be promoted to a higher rank next year. 

Ibrahim told Al-Monitor that the attitudes of some of her males colleagues are among her greatest challenges, as many men refuse to salute her even though she outranks them. Some males go so far as to defame their female colleagues because the men can't tolerate the idea of having higher-ranking women in the same field. 

“None of the less-senior male colleagues have ever called me 'sir,'” she added. Her colleagues aren't the only holdouts. Ibrahim said many civilians, including women, don't accept her work as a policewoman. 

“A lady once came to our directorate to complain about her husband and when I started talking to her, she wouldn't accept that I would be writing up the report and insisted that a male policeman write it instead,” Ibrahim said. 

Ibrahim's director had to comply and drafted the complaint himself. “The woman thought that me drafting the report would somehow affect her case. She didn't know that the decision was solely in the hands of the judge, not the person drafting the report,” she said. 

Depending on the case she is dealing with, Ibrahim works with other security agencies of the Interior Ministry, such as the Rescue Directorate, Crime Directorate and Tribal Section of the Community Police. 

There are cases that require her to visit families and solve domestic problems between siblings or relatives. There are also policewomen who work with nursing homes to get them to look after elderly people with no shelter. 

In addition to patrols and problem solving, Ibrahim and her Community Police colleagues conduct awareness seminars for girls in schools to warn them of the risks of electronic harassment, threats and cyberextortion and make sure they know the harassment law provisions. 

The challenges faced by policewomen who patrol the streets vary according to the directorates they work in. Capt. Nasreen Abdul Aima, who works at the Baghdad Police Command and previously served as an investigating officer at the Family Protection Directorate, told Al-Monitor, 

“When I worked as an investigating officer, I used to write reports for battered women who showed up to complain about their husbands. Once husbands were brought in and [they] found out that the report was drafted by a woman and that the investigating officer was also a woman, they took it personally. But today things are starting to change.” 

Abdul Aima is currently in charge of hundreds of women patrolling the streets. She believes there are a lot of cases where policewomen have proved more courageous than their male colleagues. She reached this conclusion when she worked as an investigating officer and had to visit crime scenes. 

“Where there are emergency cases or religious occasions, we are assigned the same tasks as our male colleagues and often are away from our houses for days to guard holy shrines,” she said. Abdul Aima is saluted by her colleagues, unlike many other policewomen. 

“They treat me with respect and say that I deserve the salute, which I never asked for. Commitment and professionalism oblige others to respect me,” she said. 

Khulood al-Amiry is an Iraqi journalist with a master's degree from Baghdad University's Media School and a founding member of the Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism.

  • December 08, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
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Galawezh was just 21 when she saw her mother commit suicide by self-immolation. 

Three years later she still suffers from psychological problems due to the trauma of witnessing her mother's death. 

Unable to care for her, her family sent her to live in Erbil's Aram House. 

Founded by Narmin Shaaban five years ago, Aram House is a transitional home that provides shelter and care for people who are alone in a family-led society. 

Shaaban takes care of 34 residents suffering from physical and psychological disabilities as well as elderly with terminal illnesses. "Galawezh must take medication, otherwise she can't control herself," Shaaban explained. 

"She has sisters come to visit her but not very often. On rare occasions, one sister will take her to spend time outside for a day, but then brings her back to Aram House." 

The residents at the home range in age from early 20s to mid-70s. Nazk, a 74-year-old Christian woman from Mosul, never married and her parents and siblings are now gone.  "After my sisters died, I only had three nieces left," she said. "One niece died in the Iran-Iraq war and the other two were killed in Mosul for being Christian." 

After leaving Mosul, Nazk moved around - first Bartella, later Akre, and then Hamdiniya. In Akre she said that she was diagnosed with 11 illnesses, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart problems. She uses a wheel chair. 

"Who's going to take care of me? My parents are dead. I have no option but to stay here for them to take care of me," she said. She has lived at Aram House for a year-and-a-half. 

Nasreen from Erbil doesn't know her exact age, but said she was born sometime during the 1970s. "I came from the streets," she said. "I only had my grandmother to take care of me, but she died and I never got married so I don't have anyone else." 

"This place is nice," she added. Nasreen suffers from mental illness. Police brought her to Aram House two years ago. 

Khabat is just 34-years-old and used to love her work as an accountant, but things changed after she lost her mother. "My mother was killed in a fire from a heating oil canister exploding," she recounted. "It really devastated me." 

Following the tragedy, Khabat’s brothers arranged a marriage for her. But after a few months, her husband learned of her psychological problems and returned her to her family. She has lived at Aram House for four years. One of her brothers comes once a month to bring her medications, but he never stays to spend time with her. 

Ahmed along with some of the other residents was born with physical disabilities. He was living on the streets of Mosul when he was hit by a car. He was brought to Aram House since there was nobody else to take care of him. 

One male resident suffers has Down syndrome and is unable to communicate while another female resident is deaf and mute. 

Some elderly have had strokes and have no family to care for them. Doctors and nurses volunteer their time to provide specialized care for those who are ill, and local hospitals donate necessary medications. 

Shaaban worked for 30 years in a government nursing home and realized there were no laws to protect people who have been separated from their family and have nowhere to go. 

"We are Kurds and Muslims, it's difficult to abandon your family, but they just know there is a good place with good people like this, so families can rest assured they can bring their family members here to be taken care of,” she explained. 

By A.C. Robinson

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