In photo – Seated from the left, Director of Social Affairs Zaito Toffic, Dr. Beriwan Khailany and Max Breuer.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Behind the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) social affairs office in Erbil are some houses for orphan children, housing a total of 37 orphans, 17 boys and 20 girls of different ethnic and religious backgrounds and who have ended up here for various, mainly social reasons.
Rudaw English visited this orphanage with Dr. Beriwan Khailany, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament. She said: “Some of the children here were brought by police because their parents had problems or in some cases were even in jail. Since they had no one else to mind them they were taken here,”
The orphans are local Kurds and Arab children from Mosul, religiously they are both Christian and Muslim.
Khailany, an MP from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) visited the orphans to give them gifts such as dolls and toy cars. She said she does this from time to time to remind the children that they are not forgotten.
Khailany's niece and husband – Haly and Max Breuer – joined her to give the children two pieces of new clothing they had bought for them. They had got the exact sizes of each child before visiting the orphanage. The Breuer couple, who live in Switzerland, said they had planned to this with money they had received as gifts from their wedding a year ago.
Zaito Toffic, the director of social affairs, outlined the criteria for accepting children into the facility.
“We don't, for example, take in children of divorcees,” he told Rudaw English. “Before we did but soon discovered that if we accepted all children of divorcees we would have to build more orphanages. Usually we accept cases in which the child comes from a troubled household where the parents are unfit to care for them. But in case of divorced parents the responsibility is still with them to mind their children.”
Toffic also outlined the specific criteria they have for accepting displaced children from Mosul. Among the orphans were three young girls, all sisters, who had to flee the city from Islamic States' (ISIS) takeover three years ago.
“We have some children from Mosul,” he said. “We have a project in the camps where we find children who lost their parents. We then try to find their relatives, aunts or uncles for example, who can care for them instead. If we cannot find such relatives then we take them in. But many children were put into their relative's care instead.”
“You know a good thing about the culture of Iraq is that there are many large, extended families who support each other under such circumstances,” he added.
Toffic explained that some children are adopted, but pointed out that “many families don't like to adopt children who are older than 3-5 years old. They like to adopt newborns. Also we cannot put up any child for adoption if we're not sure the new parents are able and responsible enough to take care of them. When we are certain they are then we can carry out this process.”
Anyone wanting to adopt any of the orphans “must be from Iraq as well,” he said.
As all other government agencies the social affairs' orphanage has suffered as a result of the economic crisis which afflicted the region over the last three years.
“All the staff have been appointed by the government, but for the last three years due to cutbacks resulting from the economic crisis they have been unable to do any renovation work or add new facilities,” Khailany explained.
“It's not easy, in fact it can be very difficult,” Toffic said. “The good thing is that many people and companies come and support these people. Sometimes they've even supported us better than the government has been able to.”
He also pointed out that humanitarian agencies and foreign donors are more focused on the large-scale humanitarian crisis that has afflicted the region since the beginning of the war with ISIS. “Since the situation is so much worse out there few have made donations here.”
“Our big problem is paying the salaries of our staff, some are only getting 40% of their total pay, a similar situation to teachers in the region on the government payroll,” he added. “And if staff have to cope with their own personal problems they, of course, find it harder to take care of these children.”
A staff of about 100 work at the facility on three separate shifts, they range from social workers and teachers to cooks and cleaners.
Across the facility three children sleep in each bedroom. When they are older each two of them get a room. Also, younger siblings often share rooms.
“We try to keep siblings together when they are young,” Toffic said, “We want to keep them together because they were separated from parents before and it would be a bad idea to then separate them from each other.”
As children reach early adulthood the agency tries to find them work. Toffic explained that those who find work are able to leave and get their own place. Others help workers in the facility mind the children, enabling them to keep their accommodation until they have other options.
The facility also has activities for the children, it has the feel of a boarding school. Toffic says that in summer they have sports activities and the like.
“We are like a big family here,” Toffic said.