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IOM to Increase Aid to Displaced Female-Headed Households in Iraq

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The International Organization for Migration says female-headed households displaced in Iraq suffer most from lack of health care, basic services and the threat of eviction. IOM is beginning a new program to help these vulnerable families get the humanitarian assistance they need and to protect them from violence.

The International Organization for Migration says most of Iraq's more than 1.5 million internally displaced people are caught in a vicious cycle of despair. It says most are unemployed, which makes it difficult for them to get adequate food or shelter.

While the situation is grim for all the displaced, IOM says it is worse for those families that are headed by females. It says families that lack the protection of a man are extremely vulnerable.

Throughout Iraq, one in 10 displaced families, on average, are headed by females. An IOM study indicates about one-quarter of these families are living in squatter camps, public buildings or vacated homes.

IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya says these families have limited or no access to basic health and social welfare services. And in some cases, they are totally dependent on charity to survive.

"Almost all of the female-headed displaced families are without any form of employment. And, they live in a constant threat of eviction from whatever roofs they had, even if it is a squatter camp," said Pandya. "And, they have no alternatives before them. This makes them especially vulnerable to exploitation and violence as they search for food and shelter. Anecdotal reports from IOM monitors suggest that IDP women are particularly vulnerable to becoming involved in prostitution and trafficking as a result."

Research carried out by IOM last year has identified victims of trafficking in northern and central Iraq. It shows more than half of the female victims were orphans or came from single-parent families.

IOM has been providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable internally displaced people, returnees and other women and their families since 2003. This new program, which is funded by a $2 million grant from the United States, aims to ensure greater protection for these families.

Pandya says the program will provide psychological, legal, and health care as a way to prevent and protect the women and their families from further social exclusion and violence. She says legal assistance is critical in giving women the voice they usually are denied.

"The legal issues that we expect to be mainly dealing with are expected to cover divorce, alimony, social welfare, child custody, inheritance and compensation, or property recovery so they either have the means to put a roof over their head or go back to their former homes," added Pandya.

Pandya says psycho-social help will be tailored to individual needs. Women will be assisted either on an individual or collective basis with the aim of strengthening their coping skills and providing emotional first aid.

She says the program also will provide basic medical counseling by a doctor and particular consideration will be given to disease prevention and mother and child care.