On the Ground: Peace Direct

Blythe Terrell

Scheme: Humanitarian Liaison Centre in Kirkuk, Iraq

Objectives: To listen to the problems of and provide aid to Iraqis

Funding: $2,500 (£1,348) per month from Peace Direct's funds, which mostly covers salaries and rent

A death threat didn't stop British Iraqi Sami Velioglu from opening a liaison centre in Kirkuk the following day for Iraqis seeking aid.

Velioglu arrived in Kirkuk from Britain to start the Humanitarian Liaison Centre in May. He wanted to help ease the suffering of people of all religions and ethnicities in his native country. The centre helps people who have various problems, including unemployment, ill-health and property feuds.

Velioglu had delivered medical supplies to the Kirkuk area during the first Gulf War. Peace Direct administrator Cressida Langlands said: "When the war broke out again, he wanted to do something more substantial."

After he and friends delivered two truckloads of supplies, he contacted the interim government in Iraq and asked for permission to open an aid centre.

The government leaders agreed, so he found building space to rent and trained 10 people to listen to complaints from Iraqis. The centre opened on 1 July, and directs people to agencies and organisations that can help them.

Velioglu has connections with various medical aid groups in Iraq, which can help him get medical attention for injured people. He also helps families send sick or injured children to hospitals outside the country, and helps find money to fund such transfers.

Unemployment is another major problem in Iraq. The centre hopes to initiate two projects to help create jobs: to renovate and reinstate Kirkuk's cotton factory, thereby creating 1,500 jobs; and to renovate and reinstate the 'Leisure City' complex in Kirkuk, creating 1,500 more jobs. Each project would cost about $2m (£1.1m).

Although the goals are lofty, Langlands said the charity has faith in Velioglu: "He's a very strong character; we've got some proof that he can get these things moving."

As well as helping Iraqis, Velioglu delivers reports to the interim government regarding problems among the people. Part of his goal, Langlands said, is to make sure the government starts addressing the issues.

She added: "Velioglu also wants to create a model that can be replicated in cities across Iraq if the centre is successful."

It is hoped that a review of the centre next year will lead to permanent funds. Langlands and Velioglu are fundraising for the centre and Velioglu is seeking ways to make it self-financing, such as creating a free newspaper for people to place ads to buy and sell items.

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