The documentation/future binomial in post-conflict Iraq

Children with their documentation Children with their documentation © Lian Saifi/NRC

The following is a brief presentation of Sebastian Rees’ article: “How a Paperless Generation in Iraq are Driving a New Displacement Crisis”, published on on September 4th, 2019

One might think Iraq’s main problems after the expulsion of ISIS and after more than a decade of uninterrupted conflicts are mainly linked to the material damage of the war and in particular to the lack of funds for post-war reconstruction and the recovery of local economy.

However, a recent joint study carried out by the Danish and Norwegian Refugee Councils together with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) revealed a scenario that could have much more serious repercussions over time, hypothetically capable of dragging on for years.

According to the report, entitled "Paperless people of Post-Conflict Iraq", hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lack access to essential services, having no valid documentation attesting their citizenship: it is estimated that at least 80,000 households are not in possession of identity documents, without which it is extremely difficult to move around the country, find work, access public services and having many basic needs met.

Numerous are the reasons to this complicated situation: many people lost their documents escaping from the Caliphate, others have seen them confiscated by the militia in the first place and then by government forces during the reconquest operations.

In addition, obtaining birth certificates in those territories occupied by ISIS was almost impossible and the situation was made even more complex when in order to it they required to certify the identity of a parent who was dead or missing in the meantime.

Unfortunately, even after liberation, things do not seem to have improved.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the procedures necessary to issue a document can take up to 6 months, mainly due to the absence of a digitized civil registry and the general lack of resources. It should also be considered that the procedure includes a check aimed at certifying any past affiliations of citizens with ISIS and many, even if they only came marginally into contact with the Islamic state, fear the possible consequences: from social marginalization to incarceration.

In this situation of uncertainty, there is the risk that the vacuum of services at central or local level is filled by the many extremist groups offering to satisfy the needs of the population throughout the so-called "social jihad", which in the meantime has proved itself to be much more effective than violence and intimidation.

As it often happens in these cases, then, children are those who borne the heaviest consequences (especially the 45,000 who still live in crowded refugee camps), because without valid birth certificates they cannot be enrolled in school and risk being marginalized in a country that is hardly trying to go back to normality.

If education is indeed a key element for the economic and social revival of the country, which once boasted one of the best school systems in the region, UNICEF estimates that today around 3.2 million school aged children are not enrolled and that 15% of boys and 20% of girls appear to be illiterate.

Moreover, the great majority of those who grew up in those territories occupied by the militiamen have been exposed to a strong fundamentalist indoctrination: reintegrating them into society and avoiding the spreading of the doctrines supported by the Caliphate is crucial to avoid deeper and long-lasting implications.

 In conclusion, in order for Iraq to successfully leave behind the marks of a very long conflict, it is paramount for national efforts not to be only concentrated on the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing, but especially on providing the necessary documentation to those without it as soon as possible: the resolution of Iraqis’ identity crisis of is essential to ensure the country a prosperous and peaceful future.


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Author: Federico Rossi

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