Child-Friendly Spaces Aid Recovery in Iraq

Besma* is only 9 years old, yet she has survived an ordeal no child should ever have to face. After their village in Iraq’s Sinjar district was taken over by armed groups in August last year, she and her family were held captive for months.

Besma and her aunt were eventually released, but her mother, father, sister and two brothers are still missing.

Today the young girl and her aunt, along with Besma’s grandmother, Jalila, live in a camp for displaced families in northern Iraq.

The 14,000 residents of the camp form just a small fraction of the 3.2 million Iraqis who have been displaced within the country since January 2014. The vast majority of Iraq’s displaced live outside of camps, with relatives or among host communities, taking shelter where they can.

While organized settlements like this one in Dohuk can at least provide basic services and a protective environment, for children like Besma who have experienced trauma and separation from family members, the feelings of fear and distress are difficult to overcome.

Jalila says that Besma gets upset when she thinks about her parents and her siblings. Sometimes Jalila is jolted awake in their tent by the sound of her granddaughter’s nightmares.

“Besma has terrible dreams about that time,” she says. “At night I can hear her yelling, ‘They’re coming. They’re coming.’”

Better each day

Earlier this year, Jwan, who works with UNICEF to help people affected by the current crises, met Besma during a routine visit to the camp and noticed that she seemed isolated and upset.

“She was very withdrawn,” Jwan says. “She wasn’t participating in any of the activities in the camps and didn’t seem to have any friends.”

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