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More than 1.6 million internally displaced by Iraq conflict says IOM

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mideast-iraq.jpeg37-1280x960More than 1.6 million people have been internally displaced in 1,577 locations across Iraq since the beginning of the year following unrest in Anbar and Ninewa governorates, according to IOM’s latest Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).

The August 28th DTM shows that a total of 850,858 people have been displaced since the fighting broke out in the northern part of the country in August. Most of the displaced have found refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and in the adjacent districts of Ninewa and Diyala.

“Such overwhelming numbers point to a longer-term crisis – one that may find many more in need of critical lifesaving assistance, especially as many fleeing into the KRI have already been on the move for weeks and months,” said International Organization for Migration (IOM) Emergency Coordinator in Iraq Brian Kelly.

IOM’s DTM is a sophisticated information management tool that tracks the locations, needs, and vulnerabilities of IDPs throughout the country to inform the actions of whole humanitarian community.

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According to Kelly: “The current crisis in Iraq is unparalleled. We are witnessing people who had livelihoods, families and relatively stable lives arriving exhausted physically, financially and emotionally. Everyone is living in a state of acute anxiety about what will come next, as many are unable to return home.”

In the KRI, uprooted Iraqis have settled temporarily in towns like Khanke, Shariya, Zahko, Shekhan and in and around Dahok City.

Families told IOM of their long journey from Mosul to Sinjar City, then to the Sinjar Mountains, across Syria and back into Iraq via the Feshkapour border crossing, finally landing in various locations across the Dahok Governorate. Most now live in schools, churches, mosques, parks and in unfinished apartment buildings with no water or electricity.

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IOM has distributed 200 substantial family non-food item (NFI) kits – including kerosene cooking stoves, large water coolers, kitchen sets, floor mats, mattresses, bedding and towels, laundry soap and toiletry items – to displaced families from Mosul City, Ninewa and Sinjar, who have settled in the Mangesh district of Dahok Governorate.

For former teacher Abdullah, who has already been displaced four times with his six children, this help came at the right time. “We had no way to cook and had been sleeping on concrete for weeks,” he said.

“Most of the internally displaced (IDPs) had to walk for several days to reach safety. Many of their loved ones were killed or abducted by Islamic State (IS) forces. Groups of people were reportedly forced by IS to jump off mountain cliffs, while others were taken away to an uncertain fate,” noted Brian Kelly.

“A lot of people will need also psychosocial help over the coming weeks to cope with what they have witnessed,” added IOM Chief of Mission in Iraq Thomas Weiss.

Displaced Iraqis in Mangesh include Yezidi, Christian and Muslim groups. They were all displaced from Mosul City, Sinjar City and surrounding areas.

In response to the crisis, to date IOM has distributed 23,377 NFI kits, 16,685 food parcels on behalf of the WFP, 2,050 women’s dignity kits on behalf of the UNFPA, and 1,513 hygiene kits on behalf of UNICEF. IOM has also provided transport to 17,242 internally displaced persons since 4th August.

It plans to distribute some 60,000 NFI kits and 10,000 tents, while also addressing health and mental health needs among the IDPs through mobile health clinics and by supporting existing local health infrastructure.

IOM donors include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the USA, Japan, Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the European Union (ECHO) and UN agencies.

The DTM report is available online here.

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Holocaust

German Nazi war crimes suspect, 96, who went on the run goes on trial

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Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS

A 96-year-old German woman who was caught shortly after going on the run ahead of a court hearing last month on charges of committing war crimes during World War Two appeared before a judge on Tuesday in the northern town of Itzehoe, writes Miranda Murray, Reuters.

Irmgard Furchner (pictured), accused of having contributed as an 18-year-old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945, was taken into the sparse courtroom in a wheelchair.

Her face was barely visible behind a white mask and scarf pulled low over her eyes. Security was heavy as the judge and legal staff made their way into the court.

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Between 1939 and 1945 some 65,000 people died of starvation and disease or in the gas chamber at the concentration camp near Gdansk, in today's Poland. They included prisoners of war and Jews caught up in the Nazis' extermination campaign.

Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, arrives in a wheelchair at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS
Judge Dominik Gross arrives in the courtroom for the trial against Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS

The trial was postponed after Furchner left her home early on Sept. 30 and went on the run for several hours before being detained later that day.

Charges could not be read until Furchner, who faces trial in an adolescent court because of her young age at the time of the alleged crimes, was present in court.

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She is the latest nonagenarian to have been charged with Holocaust crimes in what is seen as a rush by prosecutors to seize the final opportunity to enact justice for the victims of some of the worst mass killings in history.

Although prosecutors convicted major perpetrators - those who issued orders or pulled triggers - in the 1960s "Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials", the practice until the 2000s was to leave lower-level suspects alone.

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Belgium

British Legion seeks story behind World War II casualties

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Two Britons, killed during the WW2 Blitzkrieg, rest in the pretty Flemish cemetery of Peutie, among countless Belgian ex-combatants. Former UK journalist Dennis Abbott recently put crosses on the graves on behalf of the Royal British Legion during the Armistice commemoration week in November.

But he is also looking for answers.

What were those two young British boys actually doing in Peutie? And above all: who are Lucy and Hannah, the two Belgian women who maintained their graves for years?

Abbott has been living in Belgium for 20 years. He is a former journalist for, among others, The Sun and The Daily Mirror in London and was subsequently a spokesman for the European Commission. He is also a member of the Royal British Legion, a charity which raises money to support serving and former serving members of the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force facing hardship, as well as their families.

One of their tasks is also to keep alive the memory of those who died for our freedom. Indeed, Abbott was a reservist in Iraq for British troops in 2003.

"On the occasion of the annual commemoration of the Armistice, I looked into stories related to the Battle of Belgium in May 1940," says Abbott. "I discovered the graves of two British soldiers of the Grenadier Guards in Peutie. They are Leonard 'Len' Walters and Alfred William Hoare. They both died on the night of 15 to 16 May. Len was barely 20 and Alfred 33. I was curious why their last resting place was in the village cemetery and not in one of the big war cemeteries in Brussels or Heverlee.

“I found an article in a British provincial newspaper explaining that the two soldiers were first buried in the grounds of a local castle - presumably Batenborch - and then taken to the village cemetery.”

Abbott added: "The case won't let me go. I have looked into how the soldiers ended up in Peutie. Apparently, the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards fought alongside the Belgian 6th Regiment Jagers te Voet. But nowhere is a specific mention of the German attack on Peutie to be found.

“The Belgian and British troops fought a rearguard action during a phased withdrawal beyond the Brussels-Willebroek Canal and then to the Channel coast.

"It seems that Peutie was the divisional headquarters of the Jagers te Voet Regiment. My guess is that the staff of the regiment and the British Guardsmen might have been housed at Batenborch Castle. So the castle was a target for the Germans.

"Were Walters and Hoare guarding the place? Were they seconded to the Jagers te Voet to ensure the rearguard in the steady retreat towards Dunkirk? Or were they cut off from their regiment during the fighting?”

"The date on the memorial stone, 15-16 May 1940, is also strange. Why two dates?

“My suspicion is that they died at night during enemy shelling or as a result of a night raid by the Luftwaffe. In the chaos of war, it cannot be ruled out either that they were victims of 'friendly fire'.”

Abbott has also discovered that two women from Peutie, Lucy and Hannah, looked after Len and William's graves for years.

"That intrigues me. What was their relationship with the fallen soldiers? Did they know them? I think Lucy died. The question is whether Hannah is still alive. Their relatives are probably still living in Peutie.  Does anyone know more? On both graves someone has laid some beautiful chrysanthemums.”

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Conflicts

Youth football peace initiative for Georgian conflict zone

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A widely praised peace initiative in Georgia has launched an appeal for vitally needed fresh investment. The international peace project on the Georgian conflict zone has been lauded for helping to reconcile all sides in a dispute dubbed Europe’s “forgotten war.” In an effort to bring long term peace to the area, an ambitious project was launched to set up football infrastructure in the conflict zone of Gori municipality.

Spearheading the initiative is Giorgi Samkharadze, originally a football referee (pictured center)  who has now made an appeal for international donors to help finance his plans.

He said, “Our project has been partly financed by several business companies but it is definitely not enough to tackle our tasks.  On the contrary the situation became worse, tension is just increasing since the beginning of a conflict.”

Georgian and South Ossetian teams

Georgian and South Ossetian teams

Some $250,000 has been raised so far from a couple of investors and this has gone on drainage and an artificial pitch but more investment from donors is urgently needed for his proposals to come to full fruition.  Backing has also come from the EU/Georgia Business Council and Samkharadze  hopes aid may come from both the public and private sectors.

Support for what is still a charity has come from the Georgian Parliament which has written an open letter, appealing for investment for what is seen as a vitally important local peace initiative.

The Parliament of Georgia has given priority to the international peace project Ergneti, a state document was drawn up to seek donor organizations, the finances needed to develop children in the conflict zone with the help of appropriate infrastructure and to promote the systematic development of peace through sport and culture.

Giorgi Samkharadze explains the peace project

Giorgi Samkharadze explains the peace project

The letter, written by the Chairman of the parliament’s Committee of European Integration, senior Georgian MP David Songulashvili, strongly recommends the project which, he says, “touches on reconciliation of the societies of Georgia and Tskhinvali Region - a very prominent issue for Georgia, as well as its international partners.”

Development of the existing project, he says, “would facilitate people-to-people contact, dialogue processes, and reconciliation of the youth from both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line.”

He writes that the Committee “firmly believes that the goals and expected outcomes of this project are truly in line with the western direction of the country’s development, as peaceful resolution of conflicts and territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders are values we and our international partners are strongly committed to.”

Songulashvili reaffirms the Parliament’s support to the project and recommends Samkharadze as a “valuable potential partner.”

He concludes, “We truly hope to see this project develop and progress in line with the country’s interests.”

Cup final celebrations!

Cup final celebrations!

Samkharadze  told this site he welcomes the intervention by the Georgian parliament, adding, “Georgia is a country of parliamentary rule and, when the Parliament of Georgia and the European Integration Committee supports such an international peace project, I would hope that the European Commission will feel compelled to provide some financial backing for our project.”

He said he now hopes to see “practical help” from the EU for the initiative.

He says such efforts are all the more important now because of a worrying recent upsurge in tensions in the region.

Ergneti is one of the numerous villages located next to the administrative boundary line (ABL), the demarcation between Georgia and Tskhinvali region or South Ossetia. Following the Georgia-Russia War in August 2008, barbed wire fences were installed on the ABL hindering the freedom of movement of people and goods.

In the past, the EU has applauded the efforts of the project but the hope is that this support will translate into financial aid.

Georgian TVs have broadcast news about the  project while the President of the European Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, and the leadership of the European Parliament have sent letters of support.

Samkharadze said, “This international peace project needs the practical involvement of investors"

 

Giorgi Samkharadze give post match TV interviews

Giorgi Samkharadze give post match TV interviews

One obvious success so far has been the construction of a temporary football stadium for use by locals, located 300 meters from the temporary demarcation line in Ergnet. Recently, there was a friendly football match composed of the locals from the conflict zone. It took place near the Ossetian border and 300 hundred meters from Tskhinvali and local families of those taking part all chipped in to pay the costs of staging the event.

The event itself was highly symbolic and, so too, was the date when it took place, in August – it was in August 2008 that the bitter, albeit short, war started. Representatives from local government and the EU monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM) were among those present.

Samkharadze  said, “They told us many warm wards and encouraged all of us to continue our activities.”

He told EU Reporter the aim now is to coordinate with different partners “to build the necessary infrastructure in the conflict zone so as to engage young people in sports and cultural activities.”

He adds, “it is necessary to have a good infrastructure for all events and an environment conducive to teachers and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future.”

Ergenti was severely damaged in 2008 and a temporary dividing line runs through the village.

“That,” he adds, “ is why we need to create a good infrastructure for all. We do not want war, on the contrary, we are committed to peace.”

He adds, “We are people of different professions committed to one big goal - to develop  both young people and employment in the conflict zone.”

In the longer term he wants to see other sports and activities take place such as rugby, athletics and cultural, artistic and religious events.

 

Presentation of the Cup

Presentation of the Cup

“It is  necessary to have a good infrastructure for all such events, and an environment conducive to teachers of sports and cultural events and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future,” he states.

The exciting project – located on one just hectare of land - that he heads will, he says, also continue to facilitate the reconciliation between Ossetians and Georgians along with the development of villages close to the neighbourhood.

The area, as snow, has been a source of tension since the break-up of the Soviet Union. After a short war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, Moscow subsequently recognised South Ossetia as an independent state and began a process of closer ties that Georgia views as effective annexation.

Some 20% of Georgian territory is occupied by the Russian Federation, and the European Union does not recognize the territories occupied by Russia.

Children from both sides of the conflict line united by football

Children from both sides of the conflict line united by football

Before the war, many persons in Ergneti used to trade their agricultural products with the nearby territory now under occupation. Moreover, the market in Ergneti represented a crucial socio-economic meeting point where both Georgians and Ossetians used to meet each other to do business.

Samkharadze hopes, with his pioneering project, to bring the good times back, at least to this part of his native country. The project is, he argues, a model for other similar conflicts around the globe.

It is to be hoped now that, despite the world being gripped by a global health pandemic and the corresponding financial impact, the positive soundings coming out of this small but troubled part of Europe will have some resonance in the corridors of power in Brussels - and beyond.

 

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