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“We’re recovering together, from the same tragedy”


In June 2016, after two years of fighting between the Iraqi and Kurdish forces and the Islamic State group, more than 3.4 million people have been displaced in Iraq. Since the start of the crisis, Handicap International has been providing assistance to these displaced people. And some of the organisation’ staff members also share their experiences. Hareth, Zahra and Rana fled their city to escape the fighting. Now, they tell us their story.

Zahra, 27, Outreach Worker

Zahra, 27, Outreach Worker | © E. Fourt / Handicap International

Zahra, 27, Outreach Worker

“My life changed in June 2014. I remember it as if it was yesterday. We heard shooting in our town and then the sounds of bombs. They were so powerful we couldn’t even open our window to see what was going on. Then, our neighbours told us the Islamic State group had entered our town and the army was trying to push them back. The same day, my parents decided to leave our region. We left everything behind and fled...”

“All of my memories have been destroyed. Our home is infested with bombs that will explode if we ever try to go back. I try not to think about it too much and to look ahead, even though it’s not easy. My work helps me lot. I feel like I’ve started a new life here and I feel close to the people I help. Like me, they’ve been displaced, and like my father, some of them are disabled. I feel what they feel and sometimes, even without saying a word, we understand each other. I want to stay as positive as possible, and to give them hope. So I try to create new memories with them.”

“Through my work, I want to put across a message to them. I want to make them understand that people have destroyed our homes and our lives but that the best way to confront them is by looking after each other and acting peacefully. My work for Handicap International not only helps others, it helps me rebuild my life. We are recovering together, from the same tragedy.”

Hareth, 31, Physiotherapist / P&O Specialist

“Two years ago, as I was going home, I saw the flag of the Islamic State group flying in the streets of my town, in the governorate of Salah Al Din. We immediately decided to flee with my family. First, we took refuge in my grandfather’s farm nearby. But soon, the group arrived in the village and we had to flee again. We moved to the governorate of Suleymaniah, where I worked in a clinic for a few months. Before the conflict, I worked as a specialist in prostheses and orthoses for the Iraqi Ministry of Health. I didn’t want my situation to impact on my skills. So when I changed region, I tried to continue practicing my profession, even working as a volunteer sometimes.”

“For the past few months, I’ve been working as a physiotherapist for Handicap International, in the governorate of Kirkuk. When I meet the people we assist, I tell them that I’m in the same boat as they are. I don’t want them to think that I pity them. I want them to know that we share the same condition. Sometimes, I meet people from my town. We’re far from home, but we already know one another. That creates a bond that’s difficult to explain. The advice I’d like to give to other internally displaced people is the following:  Things are as they are, and being sad about it won’t help us move forward. The best way to get through it is not to think about the past, but to hope that soon, everything is going to get better.”

Rana, 30, “Victim Assistance” Project Manager  

“My story is slightly different because I’m from here originally. After my studies, I worked here with various NGOs. I met my husband in Kirkuk, and we moved to another governorate a few years later.  When the Islamic State group arrived in our town, we decided to come back here. I immediately looked for work with an organisation, in the region. I’m not doing it for the money. I work so that that my children can be proud that their mother is doing something to change the world. I want to show them that I am an independent woman, whose priority is to help others.” 

“I’ve had some really amazing experiences since I started working here. One mission in particular comes to mind, when I was working in a camp for displaced people in the region. The people who lived there had spent months, sometimes more than a year, in areas controlled by the Islamic State group. As part of my work, I was responsible for translating their testimonies. As I listened to their stories, I felt that I was helping them free themselves from the terrible images that were haunting their minds. I got the impression that I was giving them moral support and I understood exactly what they were going through. That really touched me.”

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