A home to return to in Bartela, Iraq
UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) in Iraq is working with local contractors to restore 2,100 houses in Bartela as part of ongoing stabilization efforts. Work is almost complete on the badly damaged house that Muneer Bahnom and his wife Sabeeha once called home. Housing repair crews are working to repair fire damage to internal and external walls, rewire the house and replace all the doors and windows.
One evening in October 2016, as he watched intently the liberation of his hometown of Bartela on television, Muneer saw his home burn on the screen with many others in his old neighbourhood. Apparently they were all set ablaze intentionally by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they retreated under pressure from the liberating Iraqi forces.
Bartela is one of many small, predominantly Christian communities in the Nineveh plains in North Iraq that have endured grave atrocities for more than 2 years under ISIL rule. At the height of its power, ISIL controlled one third of Iraq’s territory. Thousands of people have died in the conflict and more than 5.8 million Iraqis have fled their homes creating one of the world’s largest and most volatile humanitarian crises.
“We knew that ISIL had taken Mosul and that we could no longer stay,” remarked Muneer, remembering that fateful night, in 2014, that he had to flee with his wife Sabeeha and daughter Noor, along with thousands of his neighbours, frantically seeking refuge in the nearby Kurdistan Region of Iraq. “We had no time to pack or store anything. We took off immediately, holding only what we could carry and leaving everything behind.”
Muneer and his neighbours are part of a group of Syriac Christians who have lived in and around Bartela for over two millennia. Over the past 30 years, Muneer and his wife built their home incrementally on a government-allotted piece of land granted as part of his civil service benefits. They saved every “fils” from their multiple jobs to add a room here or buy some essential household items there. Their modest home was their castle. Abandoning it to ISIL was one of the toughest experiences of their lives.
Muneer and the family finally settled with his brother in Kirkuk. When they arrived, his brother was already hosting seven other displaced families. They stayed in his brother’s overcrowded house for over two years, every day hearing about the atrocities ISIL was committing against their fellow Christians in the Nineveh Plains.
“We now have a home to return to!” exclaimed Muneer, overjoyed as he and Sabeeha inspected ongoing rehabilitation work in their house. “I do not feel sadness or anger towards ISIL any more. I just want to go back home and get on with my life. Only now I feel that I can.”
At the request of the Prime Minister of Iraq, UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization was created in June 2015 to stabilize areas liberated from ISIL. FFS helps the Government to re-establish services, jump-start local markets and create conditions so that families can return home. FFS works quickly, through the local private sector, helping to avoid a vacuum that creates disappointment among local populations and contributes to the re-emergence of extremism.