Brighter prospects for displaced Iraqis

The Dutch government will support displaced Iraqis returning to towns and villages recently occupied by ISIS. Sigrid Kaag, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, announced the support during a visit to Mosul, the liberated city in northern Iraq where the terrorist organisation declared the caliphate in 2014.

‘It is of the utmost importance to restore or strengthen stability here and in other places destroyed by ISIS,’ she said. ‘Giving people the prospect of a brighter future is essential because their property and livelihoods lie in ruins. This includes re-establishing water and electricity supplies, schools and other basic services.’

The Netherlands is donating €20 million to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization. It had earlier released €37 million in total to help returnees rebuild their lives. In addition to providing basic services, the facility is paying people to clear rubble in badly damaged areas. They are earning a living and making a start on the reconstruction. Two million people were displaced in Iraq and still cannot return home.

Focus countries 

Ms Kaag has been on a four-day visit to Jordan and Iraq. Her recent policy document, Investing in Global Prospects, named both countries as focus countries with which the Dutch government will maintain a special relationship. ‘The war in Syria and the fight against ISIS have had a devastating impact here,’ she said. ‘That’s why we’re working on humanitarian aid and reception in the region in combination with economic strengthening to create more growth and jobs for both the local population and refugees.’

In this light, the minister visited an agricultural business in Jordan. Dutch aid is helping it make more efficient use of water and improve the quality of its products. Sales, exports and the number of staff have all increased. Elsewhere, a textile factory is now employing more local women thanks to Dutch aid.

‘Jordan deserves the support of the international community'

The minister’s programme also included a visit to the Al Za’atari refugee camp, which is home to no fewer than 80,000 Syrian refugees. The minister spoke with a women’s group in a centre set up there using Dutch funds.

Jordan is dealing with the huge influx of Syrians so expertly and generously,’ she said. ‘But the country cannot satisfy the enormous demand for jobs, education and other services by itself. It deserves the support of the international community. And the Netherlands won’t be slow to help.’ The minister conveyed the same message in her talks with Jordanian ministers and to students during a special presentation at the Shoman University in Amman.

Incubator for new enterprises in Iraq

In neighbouring Iraq, Ms Kaag met the prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi, and other ministers. She highlighted the importance of economic reform and respect for human rights. She also met human rights activists. She then visited The Station, an incubator for more than 30 young enterprises in Baghdad. New enterprises are a source of jobs and income for young people.

The Station also receives support from the Orange Corners programme. In collaboration with Dutch businesses and knowledge institutions, it provides bespoke training, education and coaching courses. Ms Kaag was also present at the signing of a letter of intent between FMO, the Dutch development bank, and Vitas Iraq. The two parties will work together to increase microfinancing opportunities for Iraqi entrepreneurs. FMO is returning to Iraq after an absence of nine years.

Erbil and Mosul

The next stop on the itinerary was Erbil in northern Iraq. Ms Kaag was received by a delegation headed by the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani. From Erbil the visit proceeded to Mosul, a city still contaminated with countless landmines and explosives. Some 40,000 have already been cleared with the assistance of the Netherlands. In Mosul the minster saw the scale of the devastation wrought by ISIS with her own eyes. In the old town alone, 32,000 houses have been reduced to rubble. In the Shifa Hospital, which served as the terrorist organisation’s headquarters, everything has been destroyed, and only a few walls remain of the Al-Nouri mosque.

‘Yet the resilience of the people who stayed in the city and who are now returning is really impressive,’ Ms Kaag said during a visit to a UNICEF programme for girls’ education. ‘It’s good to see that schools are re-opening and that the need for psychological care is not being neglected. Many children have witnessed some horrific events. We cannot ignore that.’ The Netherlands is supporting this approach with €5 million. 

Dutch military

The final stage of the minister’s journey visited the Dutch forces based at Camp Stephan in Erbil. They are part of the Capacity Building Mission Iraq (CBMI), training Peshmerga troops and Iraqi special units to fight ISIS. ‘You are carrying out a vital task that is contributing to peace, security, stability and the prospects that are so badly needed here,’ Ms Kaag said.