European Union External Action

Tales of hope: rebuilding lives shattered by the Syrian war

21/08/2019 - 14:51

Meet Shirin, Nizar, Seiran, Diana, Yousef and Khaboor, six among the thousands of Syrians and Iraqis benefitting from projects funded by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Duhok Hospital, EU Regional Trust Fund, Irak

Shirin weighed less than 600 grams when she was born at Dohuk Hospital's maternity. Same as a packet of spaghetti. In this overcrowded hospital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, these babies normally die in a couple of days. "For the local standards, she’s a miracle,” says the nurse, who struggles every day to give a good service to the ever-increasing number of patients. “She reached 2 kilos now and she’s good without oxygen, she doesn’t need any treatment for respiratory distress". Due to the ongoing Syrian conflict, more than 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDP) and over 250.000 refugees from Syria have arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the last years. Health needs have increased fourfold, while resources have halved, and Dohuk Hospital currently serves at least 2 million people. “All services in this hospital are free of charge. For the Kurdish people, for IDPs, and the Yezidis… for everybody”, the nurse adds.

The daily service at this hospital counts on the support from AISPO, an Italian NGO funded by the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis. Thanks to the equipment provided, the number of beds at the maternity has risen from 18 to 25. It is still not enough for a hospital that delivered 21,000 babies in 2017, an average of 57 per day. “They started supporting us from improving infrastructure and implementing capacity-building activities, to modernising our services and bringing in more technology", explains Nizar Al-Tayyeb, Director General of Health at Dohuk Hospital. The infrastructures are still too old, and more personnel is needed - he estimates there are 4 doctors and 9 nurses for every 10.000 patients, well below the target of 14 doctors and 13 nurses-, but Al-Tayyeb recognizes that the EU-funded project is "having a good impact on people". “The paediatric hospital has an additional 50 beds, there is more capacity to receive patients and child mortality rate has decreased", he adds.

Shirin, Duhok Hospital, EU Regional Trust Fund

Baby Shirin, at Dohuk Hospital's maternity

Dohuk Hospital is only one of the beneficiaries of a larger EU-funded healthcare support project in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Since September 2016, the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has allocated €5.7 million that have also improved reception capacity and working conditions in Akre Emergency Hospital and 72 primary healthcare centres. Around 1.5 million Iraqis and Syrians have already benefitted from the project.

“We are studying so we can rebuild our country”


When Seiran moved with her family to the Iraqi Kurdistan town of Shaklawa in 2015, she was forced to drop out of university. The deteriorating situation in Derik, her hometown in northeast Syria, took away her dream of obtaining a Master’s Degree, but she never gave up despite the many obstacles along the way. “When we first arrived, everything was different. It was a new country and a different language. It was a new dialect and we didn’t understand a word. But we got used to it with time”, remembers this 20-year-old girl. Some relatives told her about the EU Trust Fund-supported SPARK scholarships for Syrian refugees: she applied and became one of the first students to benefit from this project which started in 2016. With a budget of €18.5 million, SPARK has so far granted access to higher education to 2.484 Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian and Turkish students affected by the Syrian conflict.

Seiran is now in her third year of university, and she is very clear about what her main goal after graduating will be: help rebuilding Syria. "If I go deeper in my studies, I will find ideas to help the country".

Seiran, SPARK scholarships, EU Regional Trust Fund, Irak, Syria

Seiran, 20, was one of the first Syrian refugees to obtain an EU Trust Fund-supported SPARK scholarship.

Nineteen year-old Diana was not as "lucky" as Seiran. She also fled Syria with her family, but they could not rent a house due to lack of papers, so they ended up living in the Berika camp, where they have been for the past four years. On top of that, Diana had to wait two years to resume her studies due to incompatibilities between Syria and Iraq's academic systems. What would she do? She became a volunteer for the Trust Fund-supported FURSA project, a €4.4 million scheme aiming to open future perspectives for refugees by supporting their livelihood and providing job opportunities. Thanks to the project, Diana attended many recreational activities and learned to express her creativity by painting walls. She is currently learning English and hoping to specialise in communications at university, but her dream is to become a musician: “Yes, I like theoretical studies, but my dream is music".

EU Regional Trust Fund, Syrian crisis

Shedding light on blind lives


Farhan Ahmed Hassan escaped from Mosul with his three children after ISIS took over. While all are vulnerable, one of them, little Yousef, literally needed his helping hand to be guided towards their new life in Dohuk. He lost his vision a year after his birth due to cancer.

Concerned about his education, Hassan took Yousef to Roonahy Institute, an institution supported by the EU-funded QUDRA regional initiative focusing mainly on children and youth with visual impairments, deafness, and suffering from mental and cognitive health issues, including autism.

“They provided me with accommodation and told me it was possible to help my son, and teach him in Arabic for the first year so that he could learn Kurdish to blend with his peers”, explains Hassan. Now, Yousef is a happy kid who speaks fluent Kurdish, is great at memorising concepts and loves learning music. “I sensed that he is talented, he can tell good from bad music”, says the father proudly.

FARHAN, Roonahy Institute, QUDRA  project, EU Regional Trust Fund

Farhan, the proud father of Yousef, a blind child taken care of by the EU-supported Roonahy Institute.

Yousef was taken care of by people like Khaboor Mohammad Ali, a Braille teacher who is blind herself. “We teach Braille in three different languages to our pupils: Arabic, English and Kurdish. We also teach mathematics”, she explains. The ultimate goal: to teach them how to cope with their disabilities and become independent in a region where people with disabilities and their families were traditionally looked upon with pity and treated with very little respect. "But I see in recent years this has improved a great deal. They are now looking at them with respect", says Khaboor.

This important social work carried out by Roonahy Institute would not be possible without QUDRA project, an initiative aiming to "strengthen the resilience" of local communities, refugees and IDPs and which is funded by the EU Regional Trust Fund with €74.6 million. EU money having a real impact in a country where not only buildings, but lives, need a bit of help to be put back together.


All photos: EU 2017-2018, Johanna de Tessières