Iraq has witnessed multiple waves of conflict and violence in recent years that have affected millions of Iraqis. Experiencing distressful events, human rights violations, disruption of social networks, loss of property, harsh living conditions during displacement, social tensions and uncertainty are common concerns among people affected by conflict and have a negative impact in their lives.
Within this context, the IOM Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and Social Cohesion Unit has developed a strategy which includes social cohesion and psychosocial interventions in areas of displacement and return all over Iraq.
Many Iraqis struggle to cope with such life events. These stressors can result in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and contribute to increasing violence and mistrust. The well-being of displaced people and the cohesion in their communities are affected during the various stages of the displacement cycle, including multiple or prolonged displacement, as well as the return process.
Host communities are also affected by the high number of displaced communities in their area, who put a further strain on already limited resources and the fragile security context. IOM interventions are designed to enhance the coping mechanisms of affected communities, from the logic that improved well-being increases opportunities to rebuild relations between communities.
The strategic approach of the MHPSS and Social Cohesion Unit aims to address the multiple layers of root causes of conflict and to prevent new episodes of violence between and within various communities.
IOM has been providing MHPSS and Social Cohesion services in Iraq since September 2014, in support of people who were displaced as a consequence of the (fight with) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the impact of the Kurdish referendum in September 2017.
Recently, IOM has stepped up response in areas of return, is also assisting those internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have returned to their homes. IOM has reached 110,596 beneficiaries and provided 345,223 services since September 2014.
IOM MHPSS and Social Cohesion Unit follows an integrated approach aimed at to strengthening social cohesion between communities and enhancing resilience of people affected by conflict and displacement.
Though a range of activities, IOM supports IDPs, returnees and host communities to regain a sense of safety and human security, increase self-confidence and community trust, strengthen social networks, develop coping mechanism and regain hope in the future.
The programme is active in nine governorates and adapts its services to the needs of people of concern in different phases of displacement, both in or out of camps. Services are offered in community centers and though mobile teams.
Girls, boys, women, men, youth, persons with disabilities, survivors of sexual violence and torture, elderly, orphans and other groups receive age and culturally appropriated support though different services. In each site, groups and individuals with vulnerabilities were identified to create an individualized plan for them.
MHPSS and Social Cohesion services are carried out in line with ‘do not harm’ principles outlined in the sphere project, WHO’s definition of mental heath and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services in Emergencies. Interventions include the following:
Psychiatric consultations and clinical psychological counseling are provided to people with pre-existing and/or emerging form of severe stress, behavior and relational problems, and mental disorder conditions. These services are complemented with counseling, case management, psychological first aid, emotional supportive sessions and support groups.
Mediation, negotiation and conflict mitigation services are also offered on demand.
Advocacy, Coordination and Awareness
Coordination is done at the field level to support access to services and referrals, with partners and though the cluster system. IOM co-chairs the Ninewa MHPSS working group meetings and actively participates in the National MHPSS and several taskforces.
Awareness on mental health is promoted to reduce the stigma among the population. Awareness raising on other topics that affect the well-being and coexistence of people of concern is a key activity of the teams.
Guide group discussions, educational and recreational activities, sports and income generating activities are used as a tool to provide MHPSS services, strengthen social networks and bring communities together.
To build sustainability and achieve a broader reach, IOM provides regular training on MHPSS and Social Cohesion to people of concern, national IOM staff, community focal points, government employees, NGO and civil society members.
Events are an important life of Iraqi’s life. Celebrations of significant days during displacement help them maintain their culture and traditions alive, get together and get out of their routine. Events are used to bring different communities together and encourage learning from each other.
Conferences and research help IOM reaching a wider audience for MHPSS and social cohesion topics and activities in Iraq.
IOM MHPSS and Social Cohesion Unit works in collaboration with the Ministry of health (MoH), the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) and the Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD) to develop activities, services and capacity building programming.
In order to increase understanding on conflict and displacement dynamics in Iraq, the IOM MHPSS and SC Unit has started collaboration with Kufa, Dohuk Karbala and Mosul Universities. The aim of this cooperation with Iraqi academia is to support contextually-specific academic expertise on the impact of displacement and return on psychosocial well-being and social cohesion in Iraq.
Finally, the IOM MHPSS and SC Unit engages various Iraqi and Kurdish Community Based Organizations (CSOs) in capacity building and grants support programming.
The IOM MHPSS and Social Cohesion program is funded by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation (AICS), the governments of Japan, Canada, The Netherlands, and Germany.