Iraq: the Jesuit Refugee Service in Iraqi Kurdistan, winter imperils displaced families
11 November 2014

An Iraqi father spends some time with his children outside their “home”. (Elias Sader / Jesuit Refugee Service)
We all huddled in the back of the truck I usually used to transport sick animals. It was humiliating to put my children, nieces, nephews and mother in the back of this truck, but what could we do? We had to leave immediately.
Erbil, 11 November 2014 – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has established a project in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kuridstan region, to provide assistance to recently displaced people. Unprecedented numbers of families and individuals have been displaced across Iraq and Syria as the Islamic State has spread in recent months.

Currently JRS is engaged in a needs assessment and the initial provision of psychosocial support to displaced Iraqis and Syrians residing in Ankawa, a neighborhood of Erbil. Home visits are already underway, allowing us to better understand family needs and establish relationships with the community. Though accompaniment, JRS is able to not only know the exact needs of the families we assist, but is also able to foster a community spirit.

Many families are living in informal tented settlements, unfinished shopping malls and apartment blocks. Pre-fabricated campers are being set up to provide improved shelter for the winter months and to serve as schools or psychosocial centres. These settlements are supported or assisted by international NGOs, mosques, churches, local organisations and communities; everyone has contributed something in some way to help provide support.

"Crossing the border was unforgettable. There were thousands of cars in one big traffic jam, heading north on the highway, the twinkling of taillights shining in the night. It was dark, and the air was hot. A sandstorm raged the whole night. It was as if the world was punishing us. We were forced to abandon our cars at the border to Kurdistan.

We all huddled in the back of the truck I usually used to transport sick animals. It was humiliating to put my children, nieces, nephews and mother in the back of this truck, but what could we do? We had to leave immediately."

Riyad* and his family fled from their small hometown in the northeast of Iraq as the the militant group, the Islamic State, advanced in August 2014. Riyad was a veterinarian, his father a pharmacist.

Today Riyad lives in a tent with his family in Erbil; his home, garden and veterinary surgery mere memories left behind on the trail of trauma that has swept across the Middle East in the past three years.

Riyad's story is one of millions that speak of loss, fear and uncertainty hounding the thoughts of displaced Iraqis and Syrians. Forced to flee during the summer, many people left with only a few hours warning; the so-called lucky ones had a few days advance notice.

As winter approaches, temperatures are set to drop to below freezing, and heavy rain and snowfall are likely; yet many people do not have adequate clothing or shelter for the winter months.

Aid agencies have launched appeals for funds to provide assistance during the cold winter months. If help does not arrive until December or January, it will be too late for many living in informal camps or small towns in the rural areas of Kurdistan. Too many of these remote mountainous villages will be cut off from Erbil or other accessible roads by heavy rain and snow.

"The reality is that many children may die this winter, the shelter provided is simply not adequate. It is estimated that 60 percent of the displaced population in Kurdistan are under 15 years of age", says a staff member of Cordaid, the Dutch international development NGO and member of the Caritas network.

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*Name has been changed for reasons of security




Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 69 868 468