Environmental Protection and Refugee Integration: Halabja Plastic Bag Free!

The “Green City Halabja” campaign, in collaboration with women refugees and Wadi’s partner organisation NWE, distributed hundreds of self-made tote bags at the Halabja marketplace. This pilot project aims to make Halabja a plastic free city and also, generate an income for the women participating.

In the face of the fast rising temperatures, climate change and the protection of the environment have became real, urgent and politically relevant topics for the people in Halabja. The focus of the “Green City Halabja” campaign which started in the summer of 2018 is the improvement of the green spaces and public parks, planting of trees and flowers, the recycling of trash and the end of plastic bag use. Plastic bags are being replaced completely by reusable tote bags made of cotton. Activists in Halabja hope to make their city the first “plastic bag free” city in Iraq.

NWE’s Bureau of Environment in Halabja launched an action committed to that goal: First, the cotton bags were sewed and labelled with the logo of the campaign. Then the activists collectively visited the marketplace of Halabja to distribute the bags among the people there. The main goal was to encourage the residents of the city to use reusable bags instead of the ones made from plastic for their daily purchasing and to live more environmentally friendly.

The action joined an initiative which started in February 2019 to end plastic use in Halabja. What made it special, however, was the connection between two different topics: protection of the environment and an improved possibility of income for low-income women from Halabja or women refugees; as the main protagonists of this project were not only local activist, but also women refugees and IDPs – seeking protection in Halabja. After their arrival refugees, especially women, normally have trouble finding regular income, this project wants to change that, by sewing, designing and selling the tote bags.

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This project is having a positive effect on the community; people in Halabja are seeing the benefits that come from working to protect the environment by planting trees and having green spaces. Replacing plastic bags with cotton ones has also been very positive for the city and for the women refugees who are starting to generate a steady income for themselves. Halabja would like to be a role model for other cities in the field of environment protection.


The feedback has been resoundingly positive: several Kurdish media reported on it, amongst others Basnews, KirkukNow, SNN Magazine and VOA Kurdish. Even though the initiative was planned only as a pilot of a hopefully bigger project it became apparent in what way environment protection, integration of refugees, improvement of social cohabitation and quality of life can go hand in hand.

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