From Nepal’s civil war to hotspot Iraq | Mission East

From Nepal’s civil war to hotspot Iraq

Binay Basyal in Mission East’s Erbil office. Photo: Peter Eilertsen.
Binay Basyal together with some of the many children that Mission East is helping in Iraq. Photo: Peter Eilertsen.

Binay Basyal is Mission East’s country director in conflict-ridden Iraq. The Nepalese aid worker is no stranger to civil wars – he experienced one in his home country.

By Kim Wiesener, Communications Officer

What does it take to lead a Mission East office in a war zone? According to Binay Basyal, it requires a combination of calmness and indignation – on top of the necessary professional skills.

“You feel pain and anger when you witness so much suffering as you do in Iraq. But you also need to stay calm,” stated the 41-year old Nepalese national who has led Mission East’s work in the conflict-ridden country for the past two years.

“I sense that Mission East is an organisation where I can use my experience and my commitment,” he said.

Binay Basyal has developed his ability to keep a cool head – even under severe pressure – through more than 15 years as an aid- and development professional in numerous countries. He has worked in Afghanistan, Burma, Somaliland and Uganda before Mission East hired him as its country director for Iraq.

It started in Nepal 

But it all started in his home country Nepal, and his experiences there prepared him well for what was to follow. Not only is the mountainous country in the Himalayas prone to natural disasters – in Binay’s formative years as an aid worker Nepal was plagued by a decade long civil war between government forces and Maoist insurgents.

At the time, he was working for another aid organisation that was running projects in remote parts of the country. Hence, Binay Basyal often came too close for comfort to the conflict as the Maoists were operating in the areas where he was working.

“I often had to negotiate with them, and that was difficult. There were unpleasant situations. Once I was detained for several hours because they accused me of being an American spy,” he recalls.

Iraq can be quite a dangerous country to work in as well. In late October, Mission East had to temporarily close its office in Kirkuk when Islamic State launched a bloody attack on the city. And staff members must follow security regulations when when they travel around the country – such as communicating about their movements, not traveling between cities at night and avoiding locations that are at high risk of being attacked.

Mission East had a presence in Iraq from 2003-2006 during the troubled years following the US led invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein. The organisation returned in 2014 when the humanitarian situation deteriorated considerably, not least because of the devastation caused by the terrorist movement, Islamic State.

A strong team 

Binay Basyal works at Mission East’s Iraqi headquarters in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Altogether, there are four Mission East offices in the country with a strong, but until recently relatively small, team consisting of both international and local staff.

“You have to work with less resources to bring more output, that is one of the things I enjoy. I think it’s a challenge, maximising what you have. I have to deal with all sorts of situations, from quite small to very big ones.”

The all-encompassing “big situation” at the moment is the offensive against Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and the ensuing IDP crisis. At the time of writing, more than 70,000 people have escaped the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State, but the number of IDPs is expected to rise considerably.

Mission East is one of the aid organisations asked by the UN to help the IDPs from Mosul. To carry out such an operation you need a good team that is well glued together. Binay Basyal has got exactly that in Iraq, and he enjoys good support from Mission East’s operational headquarters in Brussels: “Our capacity is not enormous, but we have lots of commitment,” he said.

This professionalism and commitment will stand Binay Basyal and his colleagues in good stead during the difficult times ahead. The Mosul contingency requires a lot of resources, and even when the specific task at hand has been solved, there will plenty of work to do in Iraq for a long time to come.

“I don’t see this coming to an end very soon. If we look at a city like Sinjar, it was liberated from ISIS about a year ago, but people have not returned yet. There will be lots of rehabilitation and reconstruction ahead.”

As far as his own future is concerned, Binay Basyal expects to stay abroad for years to come, but eventually he would like to return to his home country.

”It may not be very soon, but some day, I would like to settle in Nepal and give my experience to the country. It could do with some more help,” Binay Basyal concluded.