In conflict- and displacement-affected contexts like Iraq, mental health needs tend to be greater and more complex. The exposure to traumatic events, financial insecurity and social isolation that often comes with the experience of displacement puts both the physical and mental health of IDPs at risk.
"My family and I were displaced in 2006 from our house in Al-A’amel neighborhood to Abu Ghraib district in Baghdad due to sectarianism. At first, the situation was uncomfortable because the area was new to us and the people had different ideas, but we have adapted over the years," said Huda, 29.
When her marriage fell apart after only one year due to problems between families, Huda became subject to the stigma that follows divorced women in Iraq. She pushed forward with dignity, but unable to find employment, she began to feel useless.
Indeed, a needs assessment conducted by IOM in 2020 found that a lack of job opportunities continues to be one of the most significant challenges among IDPs, returnees and host communities, causing anxiety and distress, and negatively impacting their mental health and well-being. Women in particular face disproportionate challenges to accessing employment.
After hearing about the opportunity through her sister, Huda participated in an IOM Iraq livelihood project that integrated mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). This integrated programming – referred to as MLI – brings MHPSS into existing or new livelihood projects to prepare livelihood programme participants to manage and mitigate unexpected work-related stressors; strengthen their positive coping mechanisms; and simultaneously build life, social and soft skills to contribute to livelihood success.
In Abu Ghraib, MLI programming is implemented in partnership with the Shams Al-Hayat sewing workshop.
"Through the mental health sessions and the sewing workshop, I learned many things that are necessary for life,” said Huda. “For example, I learned the art of sewing and fashion design from my colleagues in the workshop. From the sessions, I learned patience, self-confidence and time management. I also shared ideas and learned new things with the rest of the women,” she went on. "I hope that such sessions will continue.”
Since participating in IOM’s MLI programming, things have changed for Huda.
“I want to open a shop for sewing clothes,” Huda expressed with excitement, “and I am also motivated to continue my studies, as I dream of becoming a lawyer in order to defend women's issues."
In Iraq, MHPSS and livelihood needs remain among the top priorities for returnees and people in displacement. In an enabling, supportive environment, displacement-affected persons – including the most vulnerable among them – can better empower themselves to persist both emotionally and materially until durable solutions to their displacement can be achieved.
IOM Iraq’s MLI activities in Abu Ghraib were made possible thanks to support from the the Government of Germany, through KfW.