Daratu is considered to be a poor area, as it was originally a collective town where women and children of the destroyed villages of Saddam’s Anfal-campaign of the eighties were housed. Photo by author
DARATU, Kurdistan Region – They stand proudly next to each other behind their stalls in the brand new Daratu Market place, one selling vegetables, the other cleaning materials. Soon the purple ribbon will be cut to officially open this covered market with its sixty places, and these two men have been working since early morning to fill their stalls for their first day of work.
Simmo Hussein Bero, 60, fled from the Yezidi region of Shingal (Sinjar) when the Islamic State (ISIS) invaded it two years ago. He was a vegetables seller there, too, and he thinks his clients will be mainly people from his own community who now live in the nearby Qushtapa camp.
Atta Mohammed, 36, is from Daratu itself, a small town on the outskirts of the Kurdistan capital Erbil, and he used to drive around town selling goods and household items in his van.
Hussein hopes to earn enough to finally move his wife and child from the camp to a rented home. He is already saving gas money not having to drive his van around town anymore.
They are two of sixty people that will benefit from this project developed with American funding by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that is meant to help locals, refugees and internally displaced (IDP) to improve their livelihood.
The project that also aims to connect these different groups living in the area, was set up after a careful assessment of the local needs, says Barbara Rijks, head of the IOM office in Erbil.
The users pay no rent, but do pay for the services the municipality offers, like cleaning every day after closing and electricity, although the power shuts off eight hours every day and water is a problem in Daratu due to the fact that most wells have dried up.
IOM will not manage the project; the idea is for it to be locally owned, Rijks says. “The IOM will soon hand it over to the municipality, but we will monitor the situation for another year to make sure all goes well.”
The coordination with the local government already existed when it was decided to build the market, says Auday Alawee, IOM’s senior program assistant who was in charge of the project, and that was partly because the main fruit and vegetable supply in the town came from road vendors selling bad quality.
Daratu is considered to be a poor area, as it was originally a collective town where women and children of the destroyed villages of Saddam’s Anfal-campaign of the eighties were housed.
According to Alawee, there are some 16,000 local families, next to 4,000 of IDPs and 600 of Syrian refugees.
One of the striking features of the market are the cameras that are hanging all over the ceiling, monitoring the movement of vendors and customers.
They connect directly to the police station next door, where after the opening the nine screens on the screen show a quiet market.
Again there is a connection to the fact the different residents of the area work and shop here together, says Daratu district head Hemin Aadr. “We have three kinds of people in the market, and conflicts are to be expected between them. The cameras will help to make a safer environment for all.”
Unlike what many would think, locals are happy with the cameras, states IOM’s Alawee, for safety reasons. “Already shops in town are copying it, and installing their own cameras.”
The mayor of the Erbil countryside, Ibrahim Shekhalla who oversaw the inauguration, praises the project not only because it brings together the different communities, but also “because it gives people an income that will help their children go to school.”
“We as the management and the government will have less problems with families when they have incomes,” he said.
Ahmed al-Mohammed, a Syrian from Aleppo, used to sell PlayStation and other electronic games in his home country. He has now been living in the Daratu refugee camp and surviving on selling vegetables on the street.
His stall shows a big variety of vegetables and fruits, and he is already attracting customers even before the market is formally opened.
“Here I will earn more than on the street,” he states happily, mentioning it will improve the life of the seven children he has to feed. “We refugees do not get a salary, and I need to live.”