How Will the Coronavirus Crisis Impact Iraq?
By Claire Evans
04/24/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – COVID-19 has brought the globe to a grinding halt. But as each country addresses the pandemic, new trends are emerging which could provide clues as to how the country will evolve in the coming months or years. ICC identified the top three Christian demographics impacted by the coronavirus and interviewed representatives for their thoughts on how COVID-19 impacts their own demographic and future.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)
When ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plains, most Christians were displaced into the north, where several aid organizations are based. Some sought better job opportunities and fled south to Baghdad. Anwar remains in a Baghdad IDP camp with his family.
Speaking of the pandemic’s economic impact, Anwar says, “I am a daily worker, which means that the day I don’t work, I can’t afford food for my kids. Life is not fair. I suffered for my entire life. But since 2014, the sufferings are too much for a human to live in: displacement, living in a tiny caravan for many years, a lack of work. (I) can’t have a better future for my kids, because I am too small to change the direction of the family.”
“I used to earn around $15-20 daily from selling sunflower seeds at the restaurants’ street. But there are no more jobs, and I don’t know when I’ll be back,” Anwar adds. “Rumors say that restaurants will only work deliveries, even if the curfew is over. That means at least two more months without a job.”
“Humanitarian aids is not that much in Baghdad as compared to the north. It is true that Baghdad has only one Christian camp. But also no one came to see if we have needs rather than the church,” Anwar concludes.
Anwar’s COVID experience is a consequence of Iraq’s territorial governmental systems. While most IDPs are struggling to receive assistance during COVID, those who were displaced in the north at least have the ability to access some international support. Those displaced elsewhere are left to survive on their own exhausted resources.
WATCH: Iraq has had three Prime Minister designates within the past four months. This inability to form a government has roots in a broader territorial dispute, with Iran attempting to gain a stronger hold in Iraq. Iran’s ongoing influence within Iraq has served as a barrier for IDPs returning home, and further segmented Iraq into distinct government systems that create massive gaps in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The entire 2019-2020 academic year has been negatively impacted in Iraq. First, the protests in 2019 and violence initiated by the government prevented many parents from sending their children to school. “We are so sad because of what is happening in every demonstration,” said a teacher at a Syrian Orthodox school in Baghdad during the fall semester. “It is preventing students from coming to school. The political situation is a mind challenge for the kids. They can’t feel secure, and that is taking most of their creativity.”
Similar to the period of displacement, most children impacted by the protests were not given the option of online classes. However, COVID brought online classes into the global narrative, and Iraq also followed this international trend. But Iraq’s poor infrastructure after years of war has made this platform extremely difficult to implement. A math teacher at Baghdad’s al-Fadi Primary School said, “We’ve been working from home using google classes or other applications with the kids. We have the difficulty of slow internet. Parents are always complaining about not being able to download or attend the online lesson.”
WATCH: The government is consistent in not wanting to postpone the academic year, either because of demonstrations or COVID. However, it has not addressed the reality that students are not learning during this academic year. Iraq has failed to make any statement about how they will address these practical challenges, either when testing, graduating, or advancing students.
Muslim Background Believers (MBBs)
Unpredictably has defined Ali’s life since his tribe discovered his conversion nearly three years ago. This discovery forced him into a type of self-isolation which parallels that which the country is currently experiencing. Looking back on this experience, Ali says that “I think the isolation could be for good even for MBBs in many ways. It could be evangelism in a practical way in times of crisis when people’s hearts would be more open to any spiritual words. But it also could be for bad if the parents found out something, fleeing is impossible.”
Whereas it is common for individuals to seek family support during times of crisis, MBBs like Ali do not have this option. At the start of COVID, Ali lost both his job and his housing. His employer did not want to continue with a convert on his staff, and his housing opportunity fell through. The country went into quarantine, forcing Ali to take shelter in a single hotel room—with three other MBBs facing similar circumstances. “I want this curfew to have an end soon; at least I can start looking for a job again. (Then) I can go out. There are no (open) restaurants, and we don’t have the ability at the hotel to cook every day. Our life is very difficult here at this quarantine,” Ali explained. It is a difficulty that may change shape after the pandemic, but which will always exist for MBBs.
WATCH: An increase of domestic violence cases has made headlines in Iraq, a situation which MBBs are most likely to experience when their conversion is discovered by their family. The United Nations is currently encouraging Iraq to pass laws on this broader issue of domestic violence.