Overview of our work in Iraq

More than 700,000 people live in refugee camps in Iraq after fleeing Daesh terror and military operations in Syria, Mosul and Sinjar.  Domiz Refugee Camp was opened in 2012 to accommodate approximately 29,800 Syrian refugees. Numbers have fluctuated at around 40,000 since then, and tents have gradually been replaced with portacabins and later breezeblock houses. Domiz is transforming itself from a temporary settlement to an accidental city.  In 2015 Lemon Tree Trust was invited to explore the potential for greening the camp in order to improve the lives of its residents. Through the distribution of trees we began to build trusting relationships with camp residents and management. The introduction of a garden competition helped to stimulate the development of home gardens and enabled us to meet local experts and enthusiasts. We were able to support development of nurseries and, at the request of camp residents, to establish a larger demonstration garden and a small commercial plot on unused land. We are now supporting refugees in a local business developing crisis response gardening kits which are being distributed by partners to camps elsewhere, while providing an income for those assembling them in Domiz.

We are now exploring opportunities for working in neighbouring camps with IDP Yizidi communities and those recently evacuated from Mosul.

The distribution of Trees

We used the distribution of lemon trees to individual residents as a way to open conversations in the camps about the importance of trees and gardens and the things people were keen to grow. Lemon Trees have a strong resonance in Syrian culture where it is representative of community and home. During 2015 and 2016 local refugee employees distributed around 2000 tree seedlings, starting with Lemons and adding fig, grape, apricot, pomegranate, peach and olive as well as shade trees and flowering bushes. Relationships established through the distribution of trees enabled us to support the development of local nurseries and promote a home garden competition. It also helped us to promote gardening in camp schools and among relief organisations also working there.

The Garden Competition and Garden Extension programme

Holding a garden competition in 2016 and 2017 helped to encourage the further development of home gardens and innovative approaches to growing in small spaces. It also enabled us to meet those who were interested in growing and, through conversations and interviews, to discover the significance that gardens held for them.

The 2016 competition had xxx entries and the 2017 competition 138 entries, (87 from men and 52 women). Cash Prizes (1st $300, 2nd $200, 3rd $100) were offered for best overall garden with 7 additional categories of $50 prizes for best garden in a small space, using recycled materials, rearing livestock and community gardening etc. Runners up received $20 and all participants were given a lemon tree.

The development of Nurseries

The first 2016 competition offered vouchers as prizes to be spent at a newly established nursery in the camp. This enabled us to support the nursery as a viable business and encourage trade. In 2017 at the request of participants we offered cash prizes, but purchased trees from the nursery for all participants as well as floral prizes for judges. Stimulating gardening in the camp had its own knock on benefit for nurseries and by 2017 there were two separate nurseries in the camp.

The Demonstration Garden: Azadi

Research conducted with gardeners in 2016 led to a request for a demonstration garden within the gamp. We were able to acquire a disused site from the camp authorities in order to develop this and refurbish a disused bore hole on the site to provide irrigation water. This area was already known as Azadi, which means ‘Liberation’. It has become known as Liberation Garden.

We used a participatory mapping approach to designing the garden and employed refugees to develop it. It will serve as a training and demonstration centre, providing support in grey water use for irrigation, seedlings for distribution, small community vegetable gardens, recreational space for men, women and children and a number of livestock and greenhouse areas.

The garden is supported by a decreasing subsidy model, with 100% funded in the first quarter of operation, reducing subsidy for wages by 10% a quarter. In the second year workers will receive 70% of their original salary, with the intention that they are making the additional 30% through produce sales or supplies.

Start-up costs will also be reduced as infrastructure gets developed and as livestock and planted replenish themselves.  This should provide a stepping stone to the upscaling phase.

Surplus profits and produce will be distributed and/or sold to benefit widows and vulnerable households such as divorced or widowed female with no-income and disabled family member or children under the age of 16.

Crisis Response Garden Kits

We are supporting an emerging business in Domiz to source and assemble kits for gardening in crisis or emergency situations. They have initial funding from Lush and will later seek funding from NGOs and other humanitarian organisations.

The Commercial Business: Zozan

We have been asked to consider uses for an area of waste ground where water run-off from the camp creates a problem of standing grey water with inadequate draining. This area lends itself well to tree-planting on a larger scale. We are exploring possibilities for a pomegranate farm with a local resident who has experience in large scale cultivation. We have also discussed developing strip farming with a number of experienced refugee farmers.