The forgotten war zone: New plea to help Iraqi refugees displaced after fighting

FOR Faten Hameed, Scotland may be home but still she grieves for those suffering in her Iraqi birthplace. Family and friends call from her former home city, Baghdad, and tell of a vicious maelstrom of bombs, sectarianism, deprivation, killing and kidnap. Iraq is now largely overlooked, with the world’s focus on the conflict in Syria. 

But through the Scottish Iraqi Society, Faten and others are gathering help for up to four million displaced people – half of them children. The invasion in 2003 contributed greatly to the decimation of Iraq and Faten feels we have a moral obligation to innocents who paid the price. She said: “We can’t turn a blind eye to millions of displaced people living in terrible conditions. 

“Iraq has been placed on the shelf. I’m not underestimating the situation in Syria but Iraq needs help, too. “These displaced people don’t have a plan to leave or the money to pay smugglers. They are at home, living in tents or begging on the streets. “The war was wrong . There must always be another way to topple a regime than the mass killing of innocent people. Now, we must do what we can to help those left behind. It is frustrating and immoral to do nothing.” 

Last week, the United Nations launched an appeal for £600million in international humanitarian assistance to help those caught in the ongoing chaos of Iraq. As the violence escalates , the UN believe between 12million and 13million people may need some form of humanitarian assistance by the end of 2016. 

At least 18,800 civilians have been killed in violence between January 2014 and October 2015. The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict that began with the 2003 invasion by the British and United States coalition. Since then, the infrastructure and social fabric of the country has crumbled in the face of militant violence and lawlessness. 

In Glasgow, the Scottish Iraqi Society have been gathering blankets, coats and other clothes to give to the displaced exposed to Iraq’s harsh winters. They recently sent over a ton of clothes and blankets and are still asking Scots to donate what they can, including basic toiletries. 

Faten, who lives in Glasgow, said: “Scottish people are very kind and most believe that what happened was wrong. They do what they can to help people who don’t even have a coat in winter, socks and shoes, or a toothbrush or toothpaste.” She has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister David Cameron asking them to put pressure on the Iraqi government to do more to make the country safer and to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. 

Since the invasion, Iraq has lurched from one ineffective Shia government to another and has become a battleground for competing militia. Isis have found support from Sunnis disgruntled by neglect shown by the government and prime minister Haider al-Abadi is seen as weak and ineffective in tackling the militia and other issues. 

Faten believes the British and Scottish Governments must do more to push for a stronger and more efficient government. She said: “The answer is to rebuild Iraq, provide safety and security, and tackle the sectarianism and violence.” Faten has an extended family she left behind when she came to Scotland 34 years ago. 

Her sister Khlood, 55, who is a mother of four, has cancer and her husband had to buy and collect chemotherapy ampoules from a chemist in Baghdad. The family are now paying for her treatment in Istanbul. Council business development advisor Faten was born in an Iraq described by UNICEF at the time as “one of the best countries in which to be a child”. 

This was before Saddam Hussein’s reign and the decimation of the Gulf Wars. She came to Scotland to study for a masters in veterinary medicine and met her husband, who was doing his PHD. He was Shia and she is Sunni and they couldn’t return to Saddam Hussein’s regime because he would have been killed. They had three children – Ali, 33, and 23-year-old twins Mirrim and Sara. 

Sadly, her husband died of cancer when the girls were only one year old and Faten had to raise her family herself. Since then, watching her country being destroyed has been painful. She said: “The first Gulf War was so difficult as we had to watch Baghdad being bombed. The situation has worsened and it is so dangerous my family can barely leave the house.” 

Last week, a string of roadside bombs and a shooting left nine people dead and 33 wounded across the capital. Iraq has begun building a wall and a trench around Baghdad in a bid to prevent militant attacks. Faten helped found the Scottish Iraqi Society to help persecuted Iraqi Kurdish immigrants integrate in Scotland. 

She said: “For me, it makes no difference whether people are Kurds, Arabs, Muslims or Christians. Whoever is in need, I will help them.” She travelled to Kurdistan with Labour MSP Hanzala Malik in 2012 to help open mutually beneficial business links and support major economic, social and political transformation of the region, which has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. 

Now, she hopes Scotland can do the same with Iraq. Faten said: “The UK helped destroy the country, now it’s time we helped rebuild it.” In the meantime, she is calling on Scots to help keep the displaced alive. Supplies and donations of clothes, blankets and toiletries can be given to the Central Mosque in Glasgow. 

By Annie Brown
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