Key Advocacy Messages
- Ensure the needs of conflict affected communities remain on top of the agenda of national politics and authorities;
- Allow the movement of health and protection actors across checkpoints/governorates for the provision of critical health and protection services for those in need, and to ensure the continuation of protection monitoring;
- Recognize the importance of Psycho-Social Support activities (PSS) to minimize the psychological effects and stress placed on affected communities resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak;
- Allocate resources to protection actors to mitigate the protection impact of the crisis;
- Target development and stabilization action to enable solutions that work.
Millions of Iraqis in areas impacted by the military operations against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) need urgent humanitarian assistance. Approximately 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 4.1 million returnees required assistance prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Iraq. Over half of the IDPs have been displaced for over four years. Insecurity, lack of social cohesion and livelihoods, destroyed or damaged housing, and vast areas of land contaminated with explosives hamper people’s ability to return home. Country-level challenges persist, including protracted political deadlock and the delayed implementation of recovery and resilience activities. In parallel, Iraq is prone to a number of environmental challenges and natural hazards. See the Humanitarian Response Plan for further details.
COVID-19 Situation Overview
As of 4 May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed 1,415 cases of COVID-19 in Iraq; 78 fatalities; and 812 patients who have recovered from the virus.
The spread of COVID-19 is intensifying existing protection needs and increasing the numbers of people who require humanitarian assistance. OCHA has successfully negotiated with local authorities to permit the movements of some NGO partners carrying out life-saving activities, including in key IDP hosting governorates of Sulaymaniyah, Salah al-Din, and Anbar. Some organisations, particularly those carrying out programmes related to COVID-19 prevention, preparedness and response report an improvement in humanitarian access, compared with November 2019. However, measures to control the spread of the virus continue to impact delivery and direct access to beneficiaries.
Movement restrictions are currently preventing a clear overview of the protection situation. Remote protection monitoring partners are attempting to assess protection needs and gaps, but many activities are on hold or are conducted through alternative modalities (phone or social media). This poses some challenges – new case identification is difficult, (some) beneficiaries have stated a preference for in person service delivery, and in-depth analysis and identification of protection risks is severely limited.
In addition to the government-imposed curfews and related movement restrictions, instructions issued by the Directorate of Mine Action (DMA) has led to the suspension of all field mine action operations for over a month. Following the recent government decision to partially lift the COVID-19-related restrictions from 21 April 2020, the DMA has advised mine action actors to resume operations. Despite this, access issues persist for several NGOs in service delivery, particularly as non-national staff remain restricted from moving between governorates. In some situations, Mine Action partners are unable to resume activities without the oversight of international staff on local implementation.
Despite the protection concerns and health risks associated with COVID-19, returns of IDPs continues. During April, there were voluntary returns of 92 households within Ninewa, and “coerced returns” of 32 households in Anbar. No COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as distribution of masks or social distancing, were witnessed in either movement. Reports of returns from KRI to Anbar, returns within Anbar, and returns from Sulaymaniyah to SAD are being carefully monitored, alongside ongoing monitoring and advocacy at the governorate level.
The rotation of security personnel in/out of camps and surrounding areas poses ongoing health and protection risks. The Protection Cluster are monitoring the situation and conducting high-level advocacy on mandatory quarantining of security personnel outside of camps to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19 within camps. The Protection Cluster are also monitoring vulnerable population’s adoption of negative coping mechanisms and assisting in the distribution of emergency cash for protection programmes.
Major Protection Risks
Reports of gender-based violence (GBV) incidents, including domestic violence, self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors and suicide, and transactional sex are increasing. Heightened tensions within households, particularly those whose inhabitants have lost livelihood opportunities, are increasing incidents of intimate partner violence.
Survivors of violence face limited access to services, including to report incidents. There are also gaps in service provision. As of March 2020, GBV partners reached around 7% of the total target HRP 2020. Areas of major gaps include Anbar, SAD, Diyala and Kirkuk governorates. No GBV actors’ are present in areas affected directly by COVID-19, including Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Babil. Most at-risk groups are IDPs in informal settlements (poor living conditions, lack of income) and families with perceived affiliation to non-state armed groups.
Mitigation: Four UN agencies released a statement on 16-April urging Parliament to adopt a law on domestic violence. UNFPA, OHCHR, UNICEF and UN Women asked authorities in Iraq to prioritize the protection of women and children as part of their COVID-19 response. The GBV sub-Cluster has prepared a guidance note for partners detailing all possible risks that might occur and are actively advocating with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) members to raise their awareness on the subject. The GBV sub-cluster have developed technical guidance on modalities for remote service provision and referrals. A formal GBV assessment has been launched to corroborate ad hoc reports. There is a critical need for specialized GBV services and multisectoral interventions (GBV, livelihood, cash, legal assistance) to address the multiple needs of GBV survivors and mitigate the risks of GBV.
Family / child separation
Reports of family separation incidents due to movement restrictions and quarantine measures.
Mitigation: The Child Protection (CP) sub-cluster has produced guidance notes for partners and raised the issue with the HCT. Guidance notes for CCCM actors on quarantine and isolation areas in camps and informal sites have also received contributions from CP. In the Kurdish Region of Iraq, referral processes have been established between the Departments of Labour and Social Affairs and the Department of Housing for unaccompanied children due to COVID-19. Currently a lack of engagement from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Federal Iraq on child separation has prompted alternative care arrangements arranged directly between CP actors.
Child Protection risks
There are increased risks of violence against children and operational challenges for case management when incidents arise. The well-being of children in detention facilities, state houses and prisons is a major concern and a priority for action during implementation of the COVID-19 response.
Mitigation: Technical guidance on remote case management support and prioritization of high-risk cases for follow-up has been prepared. There is ongoing review of the caseload from March-April to identify trends. CP sub-cluster conducting monitoring of conditions, receiving referrals and advocating for release of children.
There are acute existing psychological needs in the displaced population. The impact of COVID-19 control measures are expected to exacerbate stress factors for those already traumatized by conflict.
Mitigation: The Protection Cluster is engaged in discussion with the Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (MHPSS) Working Group to support protection partners with materials and tools, as well as online trainings on PFA.
Limited / restricted access to protection services / humanitarian assistance
All beneficiaries, especially those in camps, are severely affected by humanitarian workers’ lack of access to them. Community centers in camps and out of camp locations have been forced to close in compliance with containment measures put in place by the authorities due to COVID-19. There is an urgent need to issue letters/waivers for INGO personnel so they can cross checkpoints and deliver life-saving services.
Mitigation: The Protection Cluster is advocating with OCHA and HCT/HC for engagement with the authorities. The Protection Cluster has compiled a list of all INGOs unable to access beneficiaries and shared this with OCHA for action. The list is now with the office of the Prime Minister.
Housing, Land and Property
Increased risk of evictions from rented accommodation due to the inability to pay rent as a result of loss of livelihoods/employment, compounded by insecurity of tenure for IDPs and returnees renting accommodation without formal agreements.
Mitigation: The Protection Cluster and HLP sub-cluster are monitoring the increased risk of eviction before/after COVID-19 and are supporting the HC/HCT in advocating with the Government authorities in both Federal Iraq and KRI to issue a moratorium to suspend all evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak. Remote counseling for households threatened with eviction is ongoing.
Limited access to information
Access to information on how to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 is erratic, and what steps to take if infected (who to call, where and how to access medical support) are limited. The Iraq Information Centre is providing information on available humanitarian services, but greater action is required to improve information sharing.
Mitigation: Ongoing advocacy with donors to allow the Iraq Information Centre to operate remotely; bulk messages disseminated for IDPs in camps and some out of camp locations on how to protect themselves against COVID-19 (hygiene measures and practices, amongst others). Partners implementing remote activities (including awareness raising sessions via phone) are also disseminating preventative messages on COVID-19.
Food prices of certain staple foods are increasing in fragile and less shock-resistant areas of Iraq. Food distribution by authorities is sometimes not sufficient to cover the needs of IDPs in camps.
Key Programmes Requiring Resources
The National Protection Cluster has requested additional funding (on top of the HRP 2020 requests) to support the COVID-19 response – for general protection, GBV and CP. The proposed activities requiring additional funding are the same as what was included in the HRP 2020, with additional adapted modality requirements including hotlines, cash for protection (COVID), setup of referrals of cases to deliver cash support for rent and remote legal counselling of households threatened with eviction due to the COVID-19 lockdown, family-based psychosocial support, and alternative care for unaccompanied/separated children as a result of the isolation/quarantine of caregivers. Accordingly, there are no specific programmes per se, but new activities (which should be funded together with ongoing HRP ones).
Percentage of Activities on Hold
Estimated 25% of activities are on hold.
Protection Responses Q&A
Mechanisms put in place to coordinate the response (e.g. COVID 19 Task Force)
Humanitarian Operations Committee COVID-19 established with HC, UNCT and INGOs representatives. The Humanitarian Committee communicates with the Committee 55 created by the Ministry of Health and relevant ministerial entities and raises humanitarian issues with them, primarily access issues.
Cluster identified solutions to ensure continuum of care and access to services
Guidance notes disseminated on remote case management for CP and GBV; on alternative care arrangements; on priority HRP activities that should continue to be implemented; PSS material for children (together with Education Cluster); MHPSS material and, a Protection Monitoring Key Informant Interviews.
Cluster communication with communities
Bulk joint messages are distributed in collaboration with CCCM, Wash and Health Clusters for IDPs in camps and some out of camp locations.
Cluster adoption of alternative modes of working modalities
All staff / colleagues are teleworking; no meetings are conducted face to face.
Cluster programme criticality exercise
After a programme criticality exercise to respond to COVID-19, Quick Impact Projects and training of government officials and development actors have been deprioritized.
The Humanitarian Response Plan
The HRP is not being reviewed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health of humanitarians
Warden checks have been put in place to address the physical and mental well-being of staff.
Coordination Structure Leadership
Lead agency: UNHCR
Co-lead/co-facilitating agency: Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Cluster Structure: General Protection, Communication with Community AoR, Child Protection AoR, Gender-Based Violence AoR, Housing Land and Property AoR, Mine Action AoR
National Level Coordination Location: Baghdad
Sub-national presence: Yes; North (Kurdistan Region of Iraq), Centre-South (Iraq)