Khader, 38, shows us a picture of himself standing in front of a massive pile of rubble. It is what’s left of his home in Yusufiyah, a township not far from Baghdad in Iraq’s conflict-ridden Anbar governorate.
Today, he and 12 of his extended family, including Khaled, 75, and Sana, 49, shelter in a small two-story home in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where they have sought refuge from the ongoing warfare and instability that are currently devastating the country.
Having abandoned their homes and livelihoods, and with few other options for income, the family relies on financial support from Mercy Corps to keep a roof over their heads.
Sadly, this is not the first time the family has sought security in Sulaymaniyah after life became too dangerous in their hometown.
They first fled in March 2014 when the presence of militia groups and sectarian tensions made them fear for the safety of their families.
But, after only four months in relative safety there, the family ran out of options and returned to Yusufiyah. Living in Sulaymaniyah is expensive, Khader was unable to find work, and they did not receive any support from others.
“It wasn’t in our control,” Sana explains. “We could not survive here [the first time].”
Back in Yusufiyah, the situation had stabilized somewhat and life was comfortable. Khader worked as a taxi driver, Sana received payments from the government and Khaled relied on his pension from driving trucks. None of them had much money, but they had their own homes and it was enough to live comfortably.
But when conflict erupted again earlier this year the family was forced to flee for a second time — luckily escaping before their homes were completely destroyed. They planned to stay in Baghdad but, after only three days in the city, they determined the risk of sectarian violence was too high.
Sana says, “We had heard that the Kurdish region was safer, and that there was more assistance from international organizations in Sulaymaniyah.”
With that in mind, they moved once again.
Soon after their return to Sulaymaniyah, the family received unconditional cash assistance as part of Mercy Corps’ initiative to support conflict-affected families living outside of displacement camps.
With the money they were able to move from their initial shelter — which had mice and lacked a proper latrine — to a nicer home that they’ve now furnished with a few thin pillows and plastic mats.
The financial assistance, which is disbursed in three monthly installments, has been critical to helping the family meet their basic needs, primarily food and safe, clean shelter.
They have received little support from the local community or government and, as before, Khader has been unable to find work. Without the money from Mercy Corps, the family says they would most likely have to move to a displacement camp, where they would face a high risk of disease and harsh weather conditions.
Though they are unsure what the future holds, Sana expresses their simple goal. “We want to go back to our homes,” she says. “Even if they are destroyed.”
But the family recognizes how difficult it will be to rebuild their lives — and they are uncertain when it will even be safe to return.
For now, with support from Mercy Corps, they will stay in the safety of their new home in Sulaymaniyah.
The cash assistance program, which is funded by the Department for International Development, has so far given this lifesaving financial support to more than 6,500 families seeking refuge in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
The unconditional cash allows vulnerable people like Khader, Khaled and Sana to purchase the essential items — food, shelter, water, medicine — they need to survive until they can go home again.