New skill set, new opportunities

How the World Food Programme is helping Syrian refugees in Iraq get jobs, start anew and become self-reliant.

Saif al-Tatooz
World Food Programme Insight
4 min readDec 28, 2017


For several years, thousands of Syrian refugees have been away from home, living in camps or host communities in neighbouring countries such as Iraq and struggling to fit in and provide for themselves and their families. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing cash-based food assistance to about 57,000 refugees living in Iraqi camps.

Now, a new project is helping some of them learn new computer-related skills that will help find employment in a broad spectrum of jobs locally and on the web. The main goal is to support refugees’ ability to become less dependent on external assistance and give them back some of the freedoms and individuality they have lost.

Noora works on her project during a tech session in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. Photo: WFP/ Saif al-Tatooz

“We left our comfortable home and replaced it with a tent in the desert.”

Noora Na’mat Hussein, 18, came to Iraq from Syria in 2013 and settled with her family in the Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq. Life was difficult for the family of five and Noora, 13 at the time, had an especially hard time being away from her school and friends.

“The first few years were the hardest,” Noora says. “We left our comfortable home and replaced it with a tent in the desert. I had nothing to do and my parents were very protective so we never went out or mingled much.”

Fast forward to 2017 and Noora, among other refugees, is happily engaged in Tech For Food, a livelihood programme launched by WFP. The programme aims to teach young refugees vital, technical skills that would help them find work in the IT and tech industry, be it as online freelancers or employees in local companies and firms.

Young refugees sit for the entry test in the social centre at Arbat refugee camp in northern Iraq. Photo: WFP/Saif Al-Tatooz

“My parents were very supportive and they encouraged me to learn as much as possible since it’s not that easy to learn this on my own,” she adds. “I hope that this training supports me and provides me with the opportunity to prepare for my medical studies in the future.”

The pilot programme was first launched last year in Lebanon. Following its success, it was replicated in other places. WFP aims to train more than 500 Syrian refugees living in camps and in host communities in Iraq alone.

In camps like Arbat, WFP is assisting thousands of Syrian refugees every month. Through Tech For Food, some of them will soon be able to provide food for themselves. Photo: WFP/Inger Marie Vennize

Keen on improving her skills and in search of a better future, another young refugee in the Arbat camp is so happy she joined the programme. “I thought this was just an English course, but then I learnt there will be computer training as well, which is even better,” says 21-year-old Shabeen Hasan Ali from Syria’s Qamishli. “I expect that once I learn and get enough experience, I can start teaching my own lessons and courses for children.”

Shabeen after finishing her second attempt to join the tech skills program in Arbat Refugee camp in northern Iraq. Photo: WFP/Inger Marie Vennize

Shabeen went through many hardships to be able to attend the programme. She had to deal with an abusive husband who refused to let her leave the house and join a mixed programme. He also made her quit her previous job as a mobilizer with WFP’s partner, World Vision, in Arbat camp.

“He was very strict and did not let me (attend) the classes. There have been some arguments and I will be divorced soon, so I thought I should get on with my life,” she says.

Even though Shabeen passed all the tests on the previous round, she was unable to join her colleagues due to her husband’s refusal to let her out of the house.

Shabeen, like many others, seeks to gain benefit from the training and be able to support herself in the future. The bright side is the fact that there is a large international demand from the private sector for relatively low-skilled, but labour-intensive digital services.

Anas Abdulbadi Hussein, 31, is another participant who fled his home in Qamishli in 2012 and works as a community mobilizer with the Arbat camp management. He helps with the recruitment and outreach for the project in the camp.

Anas works on his project in the tech centre in Sulaymaniah in northern Iraq. Photo: WFP/Saif Al-Tatooz

“We are learning how to create websites and update content, and also have English classes for those who need to learn and improve their language,” he says.

Together with the private sector, WFP is connecting Syrian refugees with internet-based work opportunities. This will enable them use their newly acquired skills to make a living, improve their lives and become less-dependent on food assistance in the future.

Thanks to generous funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), WFP supports the tech training sessions for refugees.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Iraq.